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.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns charged in a late-night press conference that House passage of the legislation was a direct attempt to scuttle the Dayton talks.
“I can think of no other reason for the House to take the action it did, except to make a statement about these talks. This is unwarranted, it is intrusive, it is naive,” Burns said.
The late-evening action on Capitol Hill came after Secretary of State Warren Christopher arrived at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside Dayton after flying from Japan to help guide the negotiations, which U.S. officials say are entering their final phase.
Christopher arrived in Dayton in late afternoon and met with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, as well as U.S. mediators.
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.
U.S. officials have been hinting that the three factions 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-member NATO-led international “implementation force” to help carry out the pact. The factions have said they will not sign if the United States backs out.
Administration officials say an accord will set off meetings among the allies, leading to a signing of the peace agreement in Paris within two weeks and deployment of NATO troops after that.
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 other top officials, including Defense Secretary William J. Perry, flew to Wright-Patterson.
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.
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.
Orange County Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach), Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and Robert K. Dornan (R-Garden Grove) took to the House floor in support.
Rohrabacher, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said the President shouldn’t send false hope to the Bosnian peace negotiators.
“We are playing a cruel game with those people in Ohio,” he said. ‘We’re not going to give those grants, and we’re not going to send our young people over there. It’s a sin against our people.”
Rohrabacher said the Bosnians “are not asking for the deployment of American troops. They have never asked. Who’s nutty idea is this to send 25,000 troops into that meat grinder?”
Times staff writer Norman Kempster in Dayton, and Rebecca S. Weiner, staff writer for States News Service, contributed to this story.