UNITED NATIONS — A compromise proposal on lifting the arms embargo in Bosnia-Herzegovina came close to collapse Tuesday under the weight of rejection by key European countries. The rejection could compound President Clinton's difficulties with Congress over the issue.
The near-collapse was revealed to the U.N. General Assembly by Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, who outlined the compromise and then told the delegates, "Unfortunately, I have learned that this compromise is reaching resistance and even rejection from some . . . friends."
Under the compromise, which was acceptable to Clinton, Bosnian officials had requested that the Security Council pass a resolution lifting the embargo on arms sales to Bosnia but delaying its implementation for six months. The delay was designed to placate British and French officials who had threatened to remove their peacekeepers from the U.N. force in Bosnia if the embargo were lifted.
But, in meetings with British and French officials, Izetbegovic was informed that they would reject lifting the embargo, even with the six-month delay, U.N. sources said.
A U.S. official said, however, that a British and French rejection "did not mean that this compromise is still not on the table." And he added that the situation "could evolve in the coming weeks."
The United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany have joined in a "contact group" to work out a peace settlement in Bosnia, and the Clinton Administration would like to fashion a unified position on the arms embargo.
Elaborating on his government's position, a French official said France could consider the compromise if the resolution did not automatically lift the arms embargo in six months and if U.N. peacekeeping troops were protected during that time.
France might accept a resolution, the official said, that provided for lifting the embargo after six months on condition that this were confirmed by a second vote of the Security Council or was recommended by the secretary general.
The Security Council imposed the embargo before the civil war in Bosnia erupted more than two years ago.
Once the war began, the embargo was less troubling for the Bosnian Serbs--who received arms from their allies in Serbia, which had most of the weapons that once belonged to the former Yugoslav federation. But the Muslim-dominated Bosnian government had no such cache of weapons.
"Justice has turned into injustice," Izetbegovic told the General Assembly, "because the aggressor had weapons--which had been stockpiled over 40 years time--while the victim was unarmed, and its hands were kept tied."
Clinton is under pressure to try to lift the embargo. In correspondence with Congress, he has pledged to introduce a Security Council resolution lifting the embargo by October's end if the war is not over. If the resolution is defeated, Clinton, according to the pledge, would consult with Congress about the possibility the United States would defy the embargo and sell arms to Bosnia on its own.
The British and French have long opposed ending the arms embargo, insisting that such an act would enlarge the war and endanger the lives of U.N. peacekeepers in Bosnia.
In his address to the General Assembly, Izetbegovic was bitter about what he called the "confused and hesitant" reaction of the world to the barbarism in Bosnia. He recalled that the contact group, when it presented a peace proposal to the Bosnian government and the Bosnian Serbs a few months ago, "clearly stated that the side who rejected the plan would be punished, while the side who accepted the plan would be protected."
But, he went on, "the opposite happened: Serbs rejected the plan and they have been rewarded by the suspension of sanctions. We have accepted the plan, and we have been punished by a complete blockade of Sarajevo."
Izetbegovic was referring to the Security Council resolution last week that eased sanctions on Serbia as a reward for pledging to stop arms shipments to the Bosnian Serbs. The latest blockade of Sarajevo, reimposed by the Bosnian Serbs 10 days ago, is easing now, according to U.N. reports.