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Senate Rebukes Administration's 1994 OK on Iran's Arms to Bosnia

By James Risen
Los Angeles Times
WASHINGTON

The Clinton administration came "perilously close" to engaging in an unauthorized covert action when it secretly gave a green light to Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia in 1994, a Senate committee said in a report Thursday.

The bipartisan report conflicts with the Clinton administration's claim that its Iranian arms initiative qualified as "traditional diplomatic activity" and was therefore free of the legal restrictions that were placed on the secret intelligence activities of the executive branch following the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s.

The panel, known as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, was investigating the administration's decision in April 1994 to signal to Croatia that the United States would not object to the creation of an Iranian arms pipeline through Croatia to supply the beleaguered Bosnian-Muslim government.

A White House official responded to the report by saying, "we stand behind our Bosnian policy, which has brought peace to the region."

Also Thursday, the House Select Subcommittee on Iranian Arms Transfers said it is sending a 26-page letter to Attorney General Janet Reno detailing what it charges are "potential criminal violations" by senior administration officials stemming from the Iranian arms controversy. Those charges include perjury, obstruction of Congress and conspiracy.

The committee said it is asking Reno to appoint an independent counsel to investigate whether criminal charges should be brought, focusing on the actions and statements of U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith and former U.S. Ambassador Charles Redman, who was U.S. special envoy to the Balkans in 1994.

The excessive secrecy led to concerns among CIA officials, including then CIA Director R. James Woolsey, that an unauthorized covert action might be underway behind their backs.

At the time, President Clinton agreed to have two U.S. diplomats tell Croatian President Franjo Tudjman that they had "no instructions" when he asked how the United States would respond to the Iranian arms shipments.

When the secret policy was revealed this year, congressional leaders were angry that Clinton had given the green light at a time he was threatening to veto congressional efforts to lift the arms embargo.

Republican critics have also charged that Clinton's policy needlessly gave Iran a "foothold" in Europe, increasing the terrorist threat to U.S. troops now on peacekeeping duty in the Balkans.

Some Republicans on the intelligence committee concluded that the Clinton team did break the laws governing covert action, but committee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., made it clear that he didn't push that view because he was eager for a report that could win bipartisan support. Instead, he noted that the report "is a primer as to how perilously close they came."

After the initial "no instructions" message was delivered, there were other incidents in which U.S. officials may have helped facilitate Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia that the committee found troubling.

One such incident occurred in September 1995, when the U.S. sent personnel to Croatia to inspect long-range rockets bound for Bosnia, but once it was determined that the rockets were not equipped with chemical warheads, American officials did not object to allowing them to continue on to Bosnia.