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U. S. Congress May Investigate Bosnian Arms Shipments

By Kevin P. Foley

Washington, May 8 (RFE/RL) - An election year embarrassment looms for President Bill Clinton as the U.S. Congress prepares to investigate his role in the shipment of Iranian weapons to Bosnian Muslims during an international arms embargo.

Clinton is a Democrat, and the Republican Party-dominated House of Representatives plans to vote Wednesday on two resolutions that would first authorize, and then fund the investigation.

The Administration has already said that it has broken no laws. Clinton's fellow Democrats in the Congress say the Republican moves amount to no more than a ploy to embarrass the president during his re-election campaign.

The issue is the discovery last month that the Clinton Administration kept quiet while Iran sent arms to Bosnian Muslims through Croatia in 1994. Republicans note that while the Administration quietly acquiesced in the shipments, Clinton was rejecting calls from Congressional Republicans unilaterally to lift the United Nations embargo on arms shipments to any of the sides involved in the Bosnian civil war.

Last summer, both the House and the U.S. Senate passed a resolution calling on Clinton to permit arms shipments to the Bosnian government. Clinton vetoed that measure in August.

For Republicans, the story brings back memories of the scandal that beset former Republican President Ronald Reagan in 1986. Then, the Democrat-controlled Congress conducted a lengthy investigation of the clandestine sale of weapons to Iran during its war with Iraq, and the use of the money earned to finance the anti-Marxist rebels called Contras in their war against the Nicaraguan government.

That all happened at a time when the Congress had specifically banned any U.S. military assistance to the Latin American rebels. Reagan denied any knowledge of the scheme and was never accused of violating any laws. However, several of his senior advisers were charged with lying to Congress. The Reagan Administration was subjected to almost daily public hearings that were televised nationally.

The Democrats say there is no comparison between the two cases because the U.S. was not involved in any aspect of the Iranian shipments to Bosnian Muslims. Congressional Republicans say they are doing their duty by conducting an investigation of the Clinton policy.

If the measures approving the investigation pass, and they are expected to, the investigation will be conducted by a special panel of members from the International Relations Committee.

The special panel's mandate would expire in six months. That would bring the probe to close just after the presidential election on November 5th.