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Congress Edges Toward Backing Deployment : Politics: Lawmakers discuss Bosnia resolutions. Measures may offer Clinton qualified support.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Republican-led Congress appears to be moving toward giving President Clinton the vote he wants on his plan to deploy U.S. troops to Bosnia-Herzegovina--but not on the terms he is likely to prefer, congressional strategists said Wednesday.

Although no decisions have been made, House and Senate lawmakers have begun discussing proposed resolutions that would enable Clinton to claim congressional “support,” but only after he has certified that he has met certain demands, such as developing an exit strategy.

While the Senate proposal would provide Clinton with a “statement of support” if he meets those demands, any House measure may well be phrased negatively--that is, to deny Clinton the funds to pay for the Bosnia operation if lawmakers’ conditions are not met.

Congressional strategists stressed that the planning so far has been only preliminary and that House and Senate leaders could change their minds by the middle of next week, when the resolutions are expected to come to the floor.

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The House, particularly, is in flux.

Strategists said it could take several more days for Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) to put together a compromise that would take into account the varied views that House Republicans hold on Bosnia.

Senior Administration officials said Wednesday that the White House is planning to send draft language to Capitol Hill early next week in hopes that Democrats will introduce legislation that closely follows the President’s wishes.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) held a closed-door session on the issue Wednesday to discuss strategy but did not disclose details of what the group may have decided.

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Clinton does not need Congress’ approval to send U.S. troops to Bosnia. As commander in chief of the armed forces, he is empowered by the Constitution to deploy military troops virtually as he chooses.

However, in a bow to congressional anger over the peacekeeping plan, the President has promised to seek a “statement of support” from Congress before most of the U.S. contingent is deployed, likely sometime in mid- or late-December.

House and Senate committees are scheduled to hold hearings on the Bosnia issue today and Friday to question Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Defense Secretary William J. Perry on the deployment.

Lawmakers have been criticizing the Administration’s plan on grounds that it lacks a clear mission statement for the operation, is unnecessarily risky and does not provide a credible exit strategy--that is, a set of conditions that would determine when U.S. troops would leave.

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Congressional strategists said Wednesday that both the House and Senate resolutions might seize on those doubts by requiring that Clinton first certify that he has met each of those objections.

Dole has said repeatedly in recent days that he wants to find a compromise that will enable Congress to support the President broadly without seeming to go on record agreeing that the United States should send troops to Bosnia.

Richard Holbrooke, the lead U.S. negotiator in the Bosnia peace talks, held a two-hour meeting with congressional Democrats on Wednesday. He drew a standing ovation, but apparently few new converts to the Clinton plan.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) told reporters later that she was “seeking to be convinced that it . . . will not be a Vietnam.”

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But she added, “I think I am moving more toward understanding that the peace agreement cannot survive without our support.”

Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.) told reporters that, while Clinton could not win a vote of support now, “in two weeks he could do it. He is slowly building support. The support is grudging.”

House Republicans already expressed their opposition to the Bosnia mission when they voted earlier this month to deny funds for it unless Congress specifically appropriated money for the deployment.


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