Given a choice between going it alone or trying once again to win international support for lifting the U.N. arms embargo against Bosnia, the Senate picked both.
In a peculiar double vote, senators voted 50-49 to lift the embargo unilaterally and, again 50-49, to require that President Clinton once more seek U.N. and NATO support for lifting the embargo before consulting Congress on further steps.Though contradictory, both provisions remained in the bill as finally passed by the Senate late Thursday on a voice vote.
Bosnia's ambassador to Washington, Sven Alkalaj, was satisfied to count the 92 senators who voted for one or both approaches, with only seven senators going on record against lifting the embargo.
"We consider this a big step forward to finally having our rights to defend ourselves," Alaklaj said after witnessing the votes from the Senate gallery.
Clinton has said he wants the embargo lifted. He could do it without congressional action, but the White House reiterated before the vote that he doesn't want to act without the agreement of European and other U.N. allies.
Senate Minority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., vowed to keep up a bipartisan fight to lift the embargo unilaterally. Thirteen Democrats joined 37 Republicans in supporting his approach.
"This is a big, giant step toward lifting the embargo, even on a unilateral basis," Dole said.
He called it "a very strong signal not only to the president but to the British, the French and others that there's a limit on how patient Congress will be, particularly on the right to self-defense."
But Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, D-Maine, said the vote ensured that the United States would not act alone to lift the embargo.
Mitchell introduced the measure to seek U.N. action as an alternative to Dole's proposal, but the language of both ended up in the bill.
"What it says is that the Senate favors an end to the embargo . . . but is equally divided on the question of how to do it," Mitchell said.
No Republicans voted for Mitchell's approach, but 13 Democrats voted with Dole.
Sen. John Warner said outside the chamber, "There's one word and one answer: farcical. It shows you the ineptitude of the Senate at times in giving direction on foreign policy," Warner said. "We sound an uncertain trumpet in the ears of those suffering in Bosnia."