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Will This 'New' Iran Help Bring Peace to Bosnia?

June 28, 1998|Richard J. Pocker | Richard J. Pocker, an attorney and former federal prosecutor, served in 1996 as chief counsel to the House select subcommittee investigating Iranian weapons shipments to Bosnia

LAS VEGAS — Ever since Mohammad Khatami, Iran's "moderate" new president, addressed the U.S. public during a CNN interview in January, wishful thinking has pushed aside better judgment among those exploring potential changes in the U.S. policy toward Iran. Khatami's overtures for cultural exchanges and a general lessening of tensions between the United States and Iran, while certainly welcome after years of mutual animosity, are but a prelude to a more concerted effort by Iran to play a larger role in both Middle Eastern and European affairs. The State Department's April 1998 report on state-sponsored terrorism, branding Iran as the most active sponsor of such terrorism in the world, will serve as a cold dose of reality for advocates supporting warmer relations with Iran and a larger international role for an Iranian government as yet unrepentant for its past international misdeeds. The statement earlier this month by Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, in which he declared that Muslims all over the world welcomed Pakistan's nuclear tests, was another chilling reminder of Iran's dangerous attitude.

Anthony H. Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies reportedly has dismissed the State Department's report as a "political document" with "the intellectual depth of a mud puddle." If his characterization is the result of a belief that it creates a problem for those in the Clinton administration eager to hold out the olive branch to Iran, he's right. Moreover, whatever the intellectual depth of the State Department's report, the murky cesspool of international Iranian intrigue in the past few years is far deeper than a mud puddle.

An example is Iran's sometimes public, more often surreptitious campaign for power and influence in the former Yugoslavia. There has been speculation among foreign-policy experts that, as part of a general effort to improve its relationship with the United States, Iran may offer its help in "shoring up" the Dayton peace accords and in maintaining the peace among Muslims, Serbs and Croats in Bosnia. This offer has been made and rejected in the past. It should be turned aside again.

Iranian policy toward the Balkan conflict has emphasized a long-term strategy aimed at capitalizing on the bloody plight of the embattled Bosnian Muslims in the pursuit of footholds of political and strategic significance in Europe. Iran has attempted to increase its influence in the Balkans since early 1992. It succeeded in winning the gratitude of the Bosnian Muslims by providing weapons to them, in violation of the U.N. arms embargo, from late 1993 through the end of 1995. The extent of Iran's military assistance, and the terrorist baggage that went with it, to Bosnia was exposed by the highly publicized North Atlantic Treaty Organization raid on the joint Iranian-Bosnian terrorist training center near Fojnica, Bosnia, in February 1996.

A 1996 congressional investigation into the U.S. role in Iranian arms shipments to the Balkans detailed the alarming increase in Iranian influence in the Balkans and the long-term implications for the Balkan peace process, as well as the safety of U.S. peacekeeping forces. The investigating subcommittee made a number of startling findings, unfortunately forgotten or ignored by those intent on warmer relations with Iran. The increased Iranian influence in Bosnia was revealed by Iranian penetration of Bosnian intelligence, military and governmental organizations in 1994 and 1995, by the participation of Iranian moujahedeen as troops in the Bosnian forces and by the dramatic radicalization of Alija Izetbegovic's political activities during the two years prior to the signing of the Dayton peace accords.

This growth of Iranian influence and the concomitant rise of the terrorist threat posed by the Iranian operatives were consequences of the administration's decision to turn a blind eye to the Iranian arms pipeline through Croatia.

In May 1994, despite the Clinton administration's public support of the U.N. arms embargo against the former Yugoslavia, U.S. diplomats signaled to the Croatians, Iranians and Bosnians that the United States would not interfere with Iranian efforts to transport and smuggle weaponry through Croatia to Muslim forces in Bosnia. This decision, concealed from Congress until its public exposure in spring 1996, became known as the "Iranian green light" and was the subject of the subcommittee's investigation.

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