GOP Tempers Bid to Block Clinton Deployment of U.S. Troops to Bosnia
House Republicans held some of their fire Friday on a bill to prohibit President Clinton from sending U.S. troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina without Congress’ approval, after top Administration officials warned that the measure might sabotage the peace talks in Dayton, Ohio.
Although the measure ultimately passed, 243 to 171, the victory margin was far smaller than sponsors had mustered for previous no-troops-to-Bosnia resolutions--and conspicuously short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a presidential veto.
Congressional strategists said the shift reflected a fear by top GOP leaders that if the bill passed overwhelmingly on Friday, Republicans might get blamed for any breakdown in the Dayton talks.
Senior Administration officials had lobbied vigorously to avoid a veto-proof majority. A few hours before the vote in the House, State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns warned that enactment of the bill would “cut the legs out from under American diplomats” in Dayton.
White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry said Clinton spent part of the afternoon calling key lawmakers to caution that the talks were at a delicate stage and asking them to delay the vote.
The late-evening action on Capitol Hill came as Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base just outside Dayton after flying back from Japan to help guide the negotiations, which U.S. officials say are entering their final phase.
Meanwhile, in the Croatian capital, Zagreb, President Franjo Tudjman for the first time publicly raised the possibility that Croats and Serbs might exchange territory to give Serbs access to the Adriatic Sea if the three warring factions reach an accord.
Although the negotiations still are far from over, U.S. officials have been hinting that the three factions are close to a final settlement and may have an accord as early as Sunday. Tudjman left for Croatia on Thursday but is expected to return to Dayton this weekend.
Clinton has pledged that if a peace accord is signed, he will send up to 25,000 U.S. troops as part of a 60,000-man NATO-led international “implementation force” assigned to help carry out the pact. The factions have said they will not sign if the United States backs out.
Administration officials say once the representatives of the three factions initial an accord, that will set off a series of meetings among the allies, leading to a formal signing of the peace agreement in Paris within two weeks and deployment of NATO troops after that.
In the meantime, Clinton has pledged to seek a formal “expression of approval” from Congress before sending U.S. troops to Bosnia.
Officials say Clinton could deploy U.S. troops without Congress’ approval, although he would be unlikely to do so if Congress disapproved by a hefty majority.
Expectations that a peace accord may be at hand soon were heightened Thursday when Christopher announced that he was returning to Dayton and when a flurry of top officials, including Defense Secretary William J. Perry, flew to Wright-Patterson to help oversee the talks.
Officials said the defense chief was there to ensure that negotiators would not attempt to broaden the role of U.S. peacekeeping forces to include such missions as returning and resettling refugees. Washington wants the troops to stick to enforcing a demilitarized zone.
Meanwhile, Administration officials raised the possibility Friday that President Clinton may also fly to Dayton if his aides believe that his presence there might help push negotiators to complete an accord. But they said there were no immediate plans for that.
Despite its enactment in the House, the bill that passed Friday is expected to languish in Congress. The Senate has no companion legislation ready for consideration, and strategists there say it is unlikely that such a bill would be passed by a veto-proof majority anyway.
Friday’s proposal, sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), would flatly prohibit Clinton from ordering any U.S. troops to Bosnia without first obtaining authorization--and appropriations--from Congress, despite his authority as commander in chief of the armed forces.