Senate Votes to End Arms Embargo Against Bosnia
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Senate voted today to require President Clinton to unilaterally lift the arms embargo against Bosnia, despite White House concern that it would put the United States at odds with its European allies and the United Nations.
The measure passed by one vote, 50-49, as an amendment to the Senate’s bill on Bosnia, but the bill contained contradictory directives. With a final vote expected later in the day, the bill also would require Clinton to seek consensus against the embargo from allies before consulting with Congress on lifting it.
Sen. John Warner, R-Va., called the outcome farcical.
″It shows you the ineptitude of the United States Senate at times in giving direction on foreign policy. ... We sound an uncertain trumpet in the ears of those suffering in Bosnia,″ said Warner, who opposed the bill.
The Senate, by a 50-49 vote, at first approved an amendment by Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, that would only have required Clinton to make another attempt at getting allied approval for lifting the embargo.
The second vote, also by 50-49, added to that action with language sponsored by Senate GOP Leader Bob Dole and a bipartisan group of senators, that would have the United States go it alone.
The bill would require approval by the House and Clinton before it would become law. Clinton has said he wants the embargo lifted but not without U.N. approval. The vote was far short of the required two-thirds majority to overcome a presidential veto.
The close votes came a day after a strong appeal from Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic for the United States to act on its own in supplying his government with arms against Serb attacks.
Most of the debate was not on whether to lift the embargo but whether to do it without first making one more effort to seek agreement from U.S. allies.
″Lifting the arms embargo is the only feasible option that will permit the Bosnian government to defend itself,″ said Sen. Joseph Biden, D-Del., who backed Mitchell’s alternative.
″It’s far too late to try one more thing,″ said Sen. Russell Feingold, D- Wis., urging an immediately unilateral lifting of the embargo.
Some senators, however, opposed any lifting of the embargo on grounds that it would lead to further bloodshed and U.S. involvement in the conflict.
Warner raised the possibility that Bosnia’s government would use new military equipment to escalate the fighting and ″regain what they have lost.″
Both measures seek to lift the 1991 U.N. embargo that has prevented the Bosnian government from importing arms to defend itself against Serb attacks.
The tougher amendment requiring Clinton to lift the embargo cleared the way for U.S. arms sales to Bosnian government forces.
Clinton wants the embargo lifted and has appealed to allies for such a step, but he does not want to go it alone in defiance of a U.N. resolution intended to decrease the bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia.
″The president feels very strongly about this ... there never should have been an arms embargo against Bosnia,″ National Security Adviser Anthony Lake said in an interview broadcast today.
″We have said we believe the arms embargo should be lifted,″ Lake said on NBC. ″That option is still on the table - if our current efforts to work out a diplomatic settlement of some kind don’t succeed, then we think we should go back to that option.″
Silajdzic, in a letter to Dole and Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., thanked them for their ″tireless efforts in support of the inherent right of a sovereign and independent state ... to defend itself against aggression and genocide.″
″The hopes of the Bosnian people are turned to the United States Senate,″ he said, adding that there can be no just peace without arming the Bosnians who are under attack by Serbian forces.
Opponents say a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo would only increase the conflict, further involve the United States in the fighting, weaken U.N. resolutions against other countries, undermine peace talks and undercut the president. Nonetheless, it has nearly one-third of the Senate, including 11 Democrats, as cosponsors.
Proponents say the embargo is illegal under international law because it applies to Yugoslavia, which no longer exists, and prevents a sovereign people from defending themselves.