Clinton calls for an end to arms embargo on Muslims

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The Independent Online
PRESIDENT Clinton yesterday called for the lifting of the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims but played down the likelihood of military intervention, saying further air strikes would be 'not helpful under the circumstances'.

Although the administration is clearly embarrassed by its inability to stop the continuing offensive by the Bosnian Serbs, it does not believe it has an effective military option. 'We have a disappointing and difficult situation today,' said Mr Clinton at the White House. 'This has not been a great weekend for the peace effort in Bosnia.'

The administration is particularly disappointed that Russia has apparently failed to get the Serbs to act less aggressively towards the United Nations. Mr Clinton said the Serbs had broken their agreements both with the Russians and with the UN in moving on Gorazde. He said: 'This is the first time that the Russians . . . reached an agreement with the Serbs they have not honoured.'

The Secretary of State, Warren Christopher, redoubled his previous denunciations of the Serbs, saying they have 'engaged in a tangle of lies and misleading statements that seldom have been equalled'.

As he left Washington for Milwaukee, Mr Clinton said his national security advisers would meet at the White House to discuss what to do. Although there may be fresh air strikes, the administration has already said that it is not contemplating a bombing campaign on a scale likely to give pause to the Serbs.

A problem for the White House and the Pentagon is that, for domestic political reasons, they have repeatedly spelled out the limits of their military involvement in Bosnia. This means the Serbs know that pinprick air raids are not the precursor to a wider air offensive.

In the past the US has repeatedly said that it favours lifting the arms embargo on the Bosnian Muslims. Mr Clinton said once again yesterday that this option was being considered but added that it was unlikely the US would act unilaterally in the face of disapproval from France and Britain.

Justifying the decision not to launch air strikes around Gorazde, Mr Clinton said they were not proving as effective there as they had around Sarajevo. He added that he had no criticism of or reason to disagree with the UN commander in Bosnia, Lieutenant-General Sir Michael Rose, saying: 'Frankly, I think it is a little too easy to Monday-morning quarter-back General Rose.'

There is little public pressure for expanding the US role in Bosnia. In Congress, Lee Hamilton, the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said: 'I don't think we can tolerate the kind of actions we've had by the Serbs in recent days . . . so I favour a very aggressive enforcement of the UN resolutions.' But the dismal failure of the limited air attacks last week - as well as the first sign that Nato planes will meet effective ground fire - has weakened the resolve even of those who want to act in defence of the Bosnian Muslims.