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U.S. Admits Turning Blind Eye To Allied Arms Shipments To

By John Pomfret and David B. Ottaway
The Washington Post

Arms smuggling to Bosnia and Croatia was larger and more complex than the shipments from Iran and Turkey recently acknowledged by the Clinton administration, and involved such U.S. allies as Pakistan, Malaysia, Saudi Arabia and Argentina, according to U.S. and Bosnian officials.

U.S. officials learned in 1992 than Iran had opened a smuggling route to Bosnia with the assistance of Turkey, two years before a controversial decision by President Clinton to give Croatia a diplomatic "green light" for the shipments, national security adviser Anthony Lake said Friday. Bosnian government officials said that by 1993, arms or money for arms purchases also were being supplied through the Turkish pipeline by Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Brunei and Pakistan, and that other weapons shipments came from Hungary and Argentina.

U.S. officials knew of most of the arms shipments but took no action, despite Clinton's public support for a United Nations-sponsored arms embargo against Bosnia, Croatia, and the other nations of the former Yugoslavia. That policy marked a break with the Bush administration, which strongly protested when an Iranian plane flew into Zagreb in September 1992 with 4,000 assault weapons, prompting Croatia to impound the cargo.

Administration officials have said that no covert action was taken to support the weapons smuggling, and that U.S. actions amounted to turning a blind eye to the shipments. But several congressional committees, including a House select committee named Friday, are now investigating the arms smuggling and Clinton's decision in April 1994 to have U.S. envoys tell Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that the United States did not object to the shipments. Republicans have charged that the administration allowed Iran to gain a foothold in the Balkans by not opposing the shipments and plan to investigate whether U.S. officials in the region may have taken direct action to encourage or facilitate the smuggling.

Bosnian officials said the Balkan arms smuggling pipeline took shape during 1992, six months after war erupted in Bosnia between the Muslim-led government and rebel Serbs, who were backed by forces and supplies from neighboring Serbia. During a visit by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic to Tehran last October, Bosnian sources said, an agreement was worked out to open a weapons supply route to the Muslim-led government in Sarajevo through neighboring Croatia.