The House of Representatives voted Thursday to order President Clinton to lift the U.S. arms embargo against Bosnia, but the action was not final.
The House approved a congressional directive 244-178 but then was voting on one that could nullify it and instead urge Clinton to work with NATO and the United Nations on possibly lifting the embargo.Clinton appealed to the House in a letter not to approve the proposal sponsored by Reps. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., the Democratic Caucus chairman, and David Bonior, the majority whip. Clinton's letter to Rep. Lee Hamilton, D-Ind., chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said, "U.S. action to lift the embargo would bring the peace process to an end, destroying the unified approach we, our allies and the Russians have been working to achieve."
Top aides including Defense Secretary William Perry told House members at a closed briefing before the vote that lifting the embargo would bring more war, not peace, to Bosnia and split NATO allies over the issue. But supporters of the proposal said it was immoral not to give Bosnian Muslims the weapons they need to defend themselves.
Joining Hoyer and Bonior to lift the embargo were Reps. Frank McCloskey, D-Ind. and Ben Gilman, R-N.Y., who argued that the current embargo works to the advantage of Serb forces, who can still obtain arms, and prevents Bosnians from defending themselves.
"This can hardly be called a war at all," Hoyer wrote to his colleagues on the eve of the vote. "Aggression and genocide are more accurate descriptions."
Hamilton sponsored a substitute amendment supported by Clinton urging the administration to lobby the international community on behalf of an end to the embargo.
The move to unilaterally lift the embargo came to the floor with solid Republican support, meaning that only about a third of the Democrats were needed to pass the measure.
A senior U.S. official accompanying Secretary of State Warren Christopher to Turkey said Wednesday the administration was weeks away from completing work on a "resonable solution" to the Bosnian conflict. He said the plan would be based on a division of territory.
Clinton, in talks Wednesday with French President Francois Mitterrand and prime Minister Edouard Balladur, endorsed a U.N. proposal for a renewable four-month cease-fire.
Thursday's debate was to have taken place two weeks ago. But Clinton aides, sensing defeat, pressed for a delay, arguing that the action would have embarrassed Clinton just as he was about to depart on his European trip.
But the Senate voted 50-49 last month to lift the U.N. embargo unilaterally to help Bosnia's outgunned Muslim-led government. In a contradictory step, however, the Senate also voted 50-49 to require Clinton to seek U.N. and NATO support before lifting the arms sanctions.