Clinton faces flak over Bosnia arms trade

The Clinton administration will face renewed heat on Capitol Hill following revelations that it learnt of, and chose to turn a blind eye to, shipments of arms from Iran and other Islamic countries to Bosnia; not in the spring of 1994 as it has now admitted, but almost from the moment it took office in January 1993.

According to an article in the Washington Post, which the White House neither confirms nor denies, smuggling of weapons to the beleaguered Muslim government in Sarajevo was a more diffuse and complex affair than the 1994 to 1996 supplies of Iranian weapons via Turkey and Croatia, to which the United States tacitly consented - in violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the United Nations arms embargo.

Among the countries purportedly involved were Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Brunei, Argentina and Hungary. Two routes appear to have been involved: direct shipments by air from Iran and Turkey, and an overland conduit from Ukraine and eastern Germany.

In fact, even before the article appeared at the weekend, the administration was implicitly acknowledging smuggling. Defending the 1994 decision not to interfere, Anthony Lake, Mr Clinton's National Security Adviser, told a breakfast of the American Jewish Committee last Friday that when it was taken, "We already knew that Iranian arms were going through, in some measure."

The newspaper traces the smuggling back to 1992, when the recently independent Croatian state first established diplomatic relations with Tehran, sending Osman Muftic, a Muslim Croat. In both 1991 and 1992 Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian President, visited Tehran seeking economic and military aid.

But in the early stages, Bosnian officials say, feuding between Bosnia and Croatia prevented many of the weapons reaching their intended destination. Only after creation of the US-sponsored Croat-Muslim federation in early 1994 did arms start to flow in earnest.

The revelations seem bound to fuel investigations by the Republican-controlled Congress. But hopes of turning Iran-Bosnia into an election-year embarrassment for Mr Clinton may prove unfounded.

By its own admission, the administration was devious. But the policy was one advocated by Republicans themselves - led by the Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, Mr Clinton's probable opponent this autumn, who from the outset of the Balkan wars pressed for an end to the UN embargo.

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