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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Role In Bosnia Weapons Defended

WASHINGTON -- The Clinton administration decided not to object to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia in 1994 because it feared a "military debacle" for the Sarajevo government, a senior U.S. official said Tuesday.

Undersecretary of State Peter Tarnoff, defending the position against hostile Republicans in Congress, rejected a formulation that the administration gave "a green light" to Croatia's plan to funnel the arms to its embattled neighbor.

"I would characterize it as responding to circumstances at the time where the Bosnian government was confronted with a situation that put its very survival at risk," Tarnoff told the House International Relations Committee. "We were concerned that a military debacle might ensue."

Bosnian Moslems, allied with the Croats, were at that time under enormous pressure from the Bosnian Serbs, who were backed by Belgrade. The military balance swung in 1995, opening the way for last November's Dayton peace accords.

Tarnoff provided the first formal confirmation by President Bill Clinton's administration that it had made a decision not to interfere with the Iranian shipments, through Croatia, which violated a United Nations arms embargo.

"Given the military urgency of the situation facing the [Croat-Moslem] federation on the ground and the imbalance in favor of Bosnian Serb forces, the administration did not object to possible arms shipments to the Bosnians through Croatia," he said, adding: "We decided that we would neither approve nor object to such shipments."

He also said leading members of Congress must have known about the shipments at the time. "Congress was aware of the Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia at the time,'' he said. U.S. intelligence reports tracking the shipments "were contained in an intelligence document that is provided on a daily basis to the relevant congressional committees."