. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Clinton Touts Ballot, But Troops to Remain

WASHINGTON -- Using nearly identical words, President Bill Clinton and his top foreign policy strategists Sunday hailed Bosnia's first postwar elections as a "remarkable" achievement that vindicated the U.S. refusal to delay the voting in the face of widespread irregularities.

Officials said that Saturday's relatively peaceful voting clears the way for the withdrawal of most U.S. peacekeeping troops from Bosnia-Herzegovina by the end of the year.

They added, however, that NATO may decide later this fall to create a follow-up force that could keep some U.S. troops in the Balkans for many more months.

Clinton emphasized the positive, glossing over increasing evidence that the expected winners in the country's ethnically divided constituencies are determined to harden the divisions regardless of the veneer of national unity required by last year's Dayton, Ohio, peace accord.

"By voting, the Bosnian people gave life to the institutions of national government -- a presidency, a parliament, a constitutional court, key government agencies," Clinton told reporters. "These institutions can bring the country together instead of driving it apart. Now we have to get them up and running and help the Bosnian people in the hard work of building a unified, democratic and peaceful Bosnia."

With voters' freedom of movement severely restricted, opposition candidates denied access to television air time and election regulations manipulated by ethnic nationalists, many critics had called for postponement of the balloting. The administration steadfastly rejected that advice, arguing that conditions were unlikely to be much better in six or 12 months.

Clinton clearly also wanted to adhere to the timetable fixed at the Dayton talks because it offered the promise of an eventual end to U.S. participation in volatile Balkan politics.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich said it now seems certain that U.S. forces will have to remain in Bosnia after the current mission ends Dec. 20.

"The American people should expect the young men and women in uniform will be in Bosnia, I believe, after the election and after Dec. 20," Gingrich said in a television appearance. "I think that's a fact. I think the administration would be much more honest and candid if it just said that, and then planned accordingly."

Administration officials now concede that the United States has little choice but to remain involved in Bosnia for the indefinite future, preferably with civilian experts and diplomats but with troops if the security situation deteriorates.

"There clearly will have to be some continued international presence in Bosnia," UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright said on "Meet the Press."

"We're not just going to let it fall off the cliff."