Although many details await a truthful accounting from the White House, the main outlines of the Administration's Iran-Bosnia policy were laid out in The Los Angeles Times' April 4, 1996 report breaking the story:
"President Clinton secretly gave a green light to covert Iranian arms shipments into Bosnia in 1994 despite a United Nations arms embargo that the United States was pledged to uphold and the Administration's own policy of isolating Tehran globally as a supporter of terrorism, according to senior Administration officials and other sources. Two top U.S. diplomats, acting on instructions from the White House and the State Department, told Croatian President Franjo Tudjman in early 1994 that the United States would not object to the creation of an arms pipeline that would channel the weapons through Croatia and into Bosnia-Herzegovina....after consultations with National Security Adviser Anthony Lake and Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott....The operation continued until January of this year, even after nearly 20,000 American troops began to be deployed as peacekeepers in Bosnia, Clinton Administration officials said."
Ultimately, the entire covert operation involved eight flights a month packed with thousands of tons of arms and ammunition either originating in Iran or purchased and shipped with Iranian backing. With the arms came Iran's Islamic militants in force, to train Bosnian soldiers and to fight along side them.
Although Under Secretary of State Peter Tarnoff declined to provide unclassified testimony in a House International Relations Committee hearing on the subject on April 23, 1996, press reports currently suggest that as a result of the Clinton Administration's policy Iran stationed from 3,000-4,000 Revolutionary Guards in Bosnia, of which some 200-300 still remain.
Just two months ago there were headlines around the world when the NATO Implementation Force (IFOR) found horrifying evidence of what the Iranians are up to in Bosnia. When French commandos stormed an isolated chalet in Bosnia on February 15, 1996, they found a terrorist training center replete with sniper rifles, rocket launchers, and explosives disguised as children's toys. Later that month, IFOR arrested three Iranians manning this terrorist camp.
And Iran's influence is not limited to Iranians coming to Bosnia. The New York Times on March 3, 1996 quoted a senior European military officer as stating that his government had evidence that Bosnia sent troops to Iran. He rightly suggested that ideological indoctrination represented an even bigger threat to the West than the technical training those troops received.
The Clinton Administration Contradicts Itself on Iran
Hence, the product of Clinton Administration policy has been to create a foothold in Europe for a state animated by an intense hatred of the United States.
As the Administration has itself repeatedly stated, Iran sponsors radical political groups and terrorists around the world. These include Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad on the West Bank and Gaza Strip in Israel, Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Rafah Party which won a plurality in Turkey legislature in December 1995, as well as fundamentalist parties and guerrillas operating in Algeria and Egypt.
The Clinton Administration itself subscribes to this assessment of Iran. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Bruce O. Riedel testified before the House International Relations Committee on November 9, 1995:
"Iran is the financier, armorer, trainer, safe haven and inspiration for Hezbollah in Lebanon, and provides strong support to a broad range of other terrorist groups. Iran spends over a hundred million dollars annually on such support."
And Secretary of State Warren Christopher called Iran "the chief sponsor of terrorism in the world" in testimony before the Foreign Operations Subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee on May 18, 1995.
It was this concern about Iran that led President Clinton to sign Executive Orders on March 15 and May 6, 1995 barring virtually all economic relations between the U.S. and Iran. And yet a year earlier, the Administration helped usher Iran into Bosnia, as if that wartorn nation did not have enough troubles already.
The White House Credibility Gap
It was widely rumored in 1994 that Iran was skirting the U.N. arms embargo on the former Yugoslavia to supply the Muslim-led government and army of Bosnia with arms. As Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Arlen Specter stated, "There was no secret that the shipments were taking place. The secret was the U.S. involvement, the secret conduct that was different from the open policy."
Throughout months and years of mounting concern by Congress, the public, and our allies over growing Iranian influence over the Bosnian government, the Clinton Administration covered up its involvement in promoting Iran's policy. As The New York Times reported on April 17, 1996, "While secretly telling Croatia's leaders that it would not oppose the shipments, the Administration publicly supported the embargo."
The Administration withheld the truth from Congress, the American people, the press, our allies, and even the Central Intelligence Agency, which learned of the covert action through its own independent intelligence activities. The Clinton White House coverup continued despite the fact that the CIA was so concerned over the possibility that the Administration's policy violated the law that it demanded a six-month review of its legality--a review that was completed in May 1995, almost one year ago, and of which Congress was never informed until press inquiries this Spring.
When newspaper accounts in 1994 reported that the Clinton Administration tacitly supported Iranian arms transfers to Bosnia, a senior Administration official told the press that the Clinton Administration "opposes what Iran is doing." And when similar reports surfaced last year, White House Press Secretary Michael McCurry told reporters that "[i]t would be inaccurate to suggest that we look positively at any violation of the arms embargo....We look negatively on anything that continues to fuel the conflict in Bosnia."
The coverup is continuing today: Anthony Harrington, formerly counsel to the Clinton-Gore campaign and now chairman of the White House Intelligence Oversight Board, the body that conducted the December 1994-May 1995 review of Iran-Bosnia's legality, discussed his report extensively on the record with the press, as did other Administration officials, but refused to turn over the Board's report on grounds of Executive Privilege. More to the point, he took the unprecedented step of refusing to testify under oath concerning it. (Harrington was willing to talk to the Committee on the condition that he not be required to swear his testimony was truthful.)
Chairman Specter also reported that another central figure in the scandal, U.S. Ambassador to Germany and former special envoy to the Balkans, Charles Redman, had informed him that he was "under instructions" not to talk to him about it.
Conclusion: "Lights Out" in Bosnia
"We weren't endorsing it, but we weren't objecting to it. It was not a green light. We turned off the lights."National Security Council Official
"Under the Clinton Administration, the doctrine of American foreign policy seems to have evolved from...strategic ambiguity regarding Taiwan to `lights out' in Bosnia."Rep. Benjamin Gilman, Chairman, House International Relations Committee, April 23, 1996
The Clinton Administration was hypocritical in permitting a growing role for Iran in Bosnia just as it identified Iran as the worst sponsor of terrorism in the world.
It was foolish to think Iranian personnel would not follow Iranian hardware into Bosnia.
It was too clever by half in saying it withheld guidance to its ambassador in Zagreb regarding whether the U.S. supported or opposed the transshipment of Iranian arms through Croatia to Bosnia.
And it was duplicitous in not revealing its at-least-tacit support of an Iranian role in Bosnia to our allies, to the Congress, and to the American people. Anthony Harrington's claim of Executive Privilege and refusal to testify under oath are tantamount to "taking the Fifth." It is damning evidence indeed.