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Clinton Would Ask Congress' OK for Peacekeeping Mission in Bosnia : Balkans: New stipulation could slow or stop the potentially perilous deployment.

September 09, 1993|JOHN M. BRODER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — President Clinton said Wednesday that he would seek approval from Congress before committing U.S. forces to a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, adding a new condition that could slow or stop the controversial and potentially dangerous deployment.

Clinton reiterated his personal support for U.S. participation in such a peacekeeping force, while insisting that it must be in support of a fair and equitable settlement agreed to by all sides in the bloody 17-month civil war there.

Clinton added the new stipulation of congressional assent in remarks to reporters before an Oval Office meeting with Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic. He had never before specifically cited congressional approval in his list of requirements to be met before he would approve dispatch of U.S. troops to the Balkans.

Congressional leaders in general have been supportive of Clinton's efforts to do more to end the bloodshed in Bosnia. But in light of the experience of U.S. troops in Somalia, where eight Americans have been killed in action and 58 wounded since last December, there seems to be growing unease among lawmakers over use of U.S. troops in countries suffering volatile civil strife.

In a brief photo opportunity before his meeting with the Bosnian president, Clinton mentioned the need for congressional support or agreement five separate times. He appeared to be warning Izetbegovic that domestic opposition might prevent him from delivering on his pledge to send troops to monitor a peace settlement.

"I think that Congress and the American people need to know that the Bosnian government would look to the United States to be a part of any attempt to guarantee the peace," Clinton said.

"If we can get the Congress to support it, then I think we should participate," Clinton added.

Administration officials previously have said that the United States would be willing to send as many as 20,000 troops as part of a U.N.-authorized peacekeeping force that would enforce a settlement agreed to by Bosnian, Serb and Croat factions.

Clinton in May ordered 300 U.S. forces to join a multinational U.N. observer contingent in Macedonia, another former Yugoslav republic where fears have grown of possible Serb aggression. He did not ask Congress to approve that deployment.

Clinton stressed Wednesday that any U.S. troops sent to enforce a peace settlement in Bosnia would serve only under the North Atlantic Treaty Organization--not U.N.--military command. NATO's commander in chief has always been a U.S. four-star general and NATO's equipment and fighting doctrine are also largely American.

The Pentagon, which has always been wary of putting American soldiers under U.N. command, is especially insistent of NATO control in this case because of the scale of the Bosnian operation and the severe problems encountered in the U.N.-run military operation in Somalia.

"To do it, we have to have a fair peace that is . . . willingly entered into by the parties," Clinton said of the possibility of sending U.S. forces to the area. "It has to be able to be enforced or, if you will, be guaranteed by a peacekeeping force from NATO--not the United Nations--but NATO. And of course, for me to do it, the Congress would have to agree."

Izetbegovic welcomed the renewed offer to commit the first U.S. ground troops to the Balkans to enforce a settlement of the ethnic conflict--if a peace agreement can be salvaged from stalled talks among the Bosnians, Serbs and Croats.

Izetbegovic said he was ready for a resumption of negotiations with Bosnian Serbs and Croats and that they could be reopened next week, in Geneva or in New York.

Izetbegovic said that Clinton had assured him in their Oval Office meeting that "the United States would do their best to influence the Serbian and the Croatian sides to be more fair" in negotiations with the Muslim-dominated government.

Before meeting with Clinton and Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Izetbegovic said he would ask Clinton to set a deadline for U.S. air strikes against the Serbs if they do not halt the strangulation of Sarajevo, which is no longer being bombarded but still is being deprived of much humanitarian aid.

"It is high time for the lifting of the siege of Sarajevo. That could be lifted only by air strikes," Izetbegovic told reporters after meeting several U.S. House and Senate members. "The United States should put a deadline to the Serbs to remove the artillery around the city. If they don't do that, then they will have the air strikes," Izetbegovic said. "We need the support of the U.S."

A senior Administration official said that Izetbegovic repeated his request for U.S. military intervention in his meeting with Clinton, but was "realistic" about the dim prospects for U.S. air strikes.

"He understands the limits of what the outside world can do," said the official, who spoke under the condition of anonymity.

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