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Clinton to Consult Congress on Deployment : Balkans: President says he will seek approval before sending troops to Bosnia, but only after peace agreement--based on U.S. participation--is reached.

October 21, 1995|NORMAN KEMPSTER and ELIZABETH SHOGREN | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

WASHINGTON — In a conciliatory gesture to an increasingly skeptical Congress, President Clinton said Friday that he will seek the approval of the lawmakers before sending U.S. troops to enforce peace in Bosnia.

"I would welcome, encourage and at the appropriate time request an expression of support by Congress promptly after a peace agreement is reached," Clinton said in a letter to Sen. Robert C. Byrd (D-W.Va.).

Earlier, Administration officials had carefully avoided promising to ask for congressional approval, maintaining that the President has constitutional power to deploy military forces without a vote on Capitol Hill.

But Clinton still failed to win over his most formidable critic.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kan.) said in a Senate speech that the Administration "has not yet made the case for its proposed operation."

He said Clinton must go beyond requesting congressional approval and "provide us with the information we need to make an informed judgment."

In the same speech, Dole urged the Administration to refuse to give Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic a visa to attend Bosnian peace talks scheduled to start Oct. 31 in Dayton, Ohio, because he said Milosevic has been implicated in massacres of civilians by Bosnian Serb militias.

"Milosevic is no peacemaker. Rather, [he is] the mastermind behind 'ethnic cleansing,' oppression and aggression in the former Yugoslavia," Dole said. "Sure, Milosevic has not yet been indicted by the war crimes tribunal. But there is no doubt that he has given support and safe haven to some of the most notorious war criminals."

Administration officials insisted that the conference will go ahead with Milosevic at the table. They said that, if the President took Dole's advice and barred Milosevic from the conference, it would scuttle the talks.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said it is absurd to suggest that only people with clean hands can participate in peace talks.

"If we had that standard, then there would be no peace," Burns said. "The fact is that we are no great friend of Mr. Milosevic and never have been, but we have an obligation to pursue peace. We ask ourselves what is the best and most effective mechanism to stop human rights abuses. It is important to talk about them.

"At any peace conference in a situation like this . . . you don't sit down and negotiate peace with your best friends. You often sit down with people who are your enemies, and sometimes with people whom you wouldn't want to have as your best friends."

At the same time, Burns confirmed reports of a fresh massacre of as many as 3,000 Muslim civilians near the town of Banja Luka. He said that Bosnian Serb militias were apparently responsible, although the private army of a Serbian warlord known as Arkan was also implicated.

Although he agreed that Milosevic's government has influence with the perpetrators of the atrocities, Burns said the latest massacre reports must not be allowed to torpedo the peace talks to be attended by the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia and Serbia.

In his letter to Byrd, Clinton stopped short of pledging to withhold U.S. troops from a North Atlantic Treaty Organization-led Bosnia force if Congress disapproves. But it would be politically difficult for the President to ignore a direct vote of the lawmakers, especially if he requested an endorsement.

However, Clinton's plan to seek approval only after the warring factions have agreed on a peace treaty will make it difficult for Congress to veto the plan.

Officials have said the factions will not agree to a peace plan unless they are assured that NATO will enforce it. So Clinton, in effect, plans to ask Congress to vote only after he has already pledged U.S. participation and under circumstances in which a "no" vote would wreck an agreement already accepted by the parties to the conflict.

Dole acknowledged that it may be hard to vote against the Administration.

"I want to support my President, Democrat or Republican," Dole said. "But you've got to make your case, Mr. President. You've got to make the case to the American people. It's their son or daughter or grandson who will be asked to go there."

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