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Gingrich Criticizes Clinton Over Bosnia

TIMES STAFF WRITER

House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said Wednesday that President Clinton misled congressional leaders about the true U.S. role in Bosnia while the administration was secretly acquiescing to Iranian arms shipments to the Bosnian Muslims.

Gingrich said in an interview that he, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) and other lawmakers had many meetings with Clinton about U.S. Bosnia policy over the last three years--while the United States was publicly upholding the international arms embargo against Bosnia. Never, he said, did Clinton indicate that the administration had given a green light to Iranian arms smuggling.

Gingrich said that congressional leaders who supported lifting an arms embargo--or who might have approved of covert U.S. efforts to encourage Muslim countries friendly to the United States to secretly arm the Bosnians--were repeatedly rebuffed by the president. Clinton told them that such efforts would antagonize European allies and violate international agreements.

“If you have been told face to face by the president of the United States for three years that you can’t help the Bosnians and now you learn after all these face-to-face meetings that they were encouraging the Iranians, giving Iranian arms shipments a wink and a nod, then how do you walk into the next meeting and believe what you are being told?” Gingrich asked.

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In response, White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry denied that Gingrich had been misled. Congressional leaders had full access to U.S. intelligence information that provided clear evidence of Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia, McCurry said.

“Those are truly extraordinary comments by the speaker, given the high degree of attention that we presume the Congress was paying to Bosnia at the time,” McCurry said. “It was clear, from the intelligence information available to the speaker and his staff at the time, what our understanding was about the nature of arms flows into Bosnia. And at any time there could have been a more thorough discussion of the nature of arms flows into Bosnia, because that information was widely available to Congress.”

McCurry added that Gingrich is also ignoring the intense pressure Congress was applying to the White House in 1994 and 1995 to unilaterally lift the arms embargo to help the Bosnian Muslims in their civil war with the Bosnian Serbs. “What the speaker is doing here is forgetting a central premise of the Republican position and Sen. Dole’s position at the time,” McCurry said. “It was the Republicans who were desperate to find some way unilaterally to arm the Muslims. The president said privately and publicly that we could not abrogate the U.N. embargo.”

McCurry added that the administration “never acquiesced, endorsed or condoned any actions by the government of Iran and to suggest otherwise is ludicrous.”

Gingrich said that he is certain Congress will conduct an investigation and hearings into The Times’ report last Friday that Clinton secretly gave a green light to the covert shipments in early 1994.

The Times reported that Clinton decided, in consultation with National Security Advisor Anthony Lake and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbot, to instruct two U.S. diplomats to inform Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that the United States would not object to the creation of an Iranian arms pipeline through Croatia and into neighboring Bosnia.

Gingrich made it clear that he is more upset by the Iranian connection than by the White House failure to notify Congress.

“To me the biggest issue is not the question of whether this was a covert action that they should have reported to us,” he said. “The most critical issue is how could an American administration have implicitly sanctioned a terrorist regime entering Europe?

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“That suggests a total lack of foresight or systematic thinking,” he said. “If you were going to have a covert operation where you encourage countries like Egypt or Turkey, countries that at least have some alliance with us, that might make some sense. But to wink and nod at Iran getting a foothold in Europe is extraordinarily dangerous.”


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