Congress yesterday launched investigations to determine whether President Clinton secretly approved Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia at a time when the administration publicly favored enforcing an international arms ban on the Balkans and opposed legislation that would have ended it.
Four House committees are probing the matter, and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole ordered four Senate panels to do the same.
Mr. Dole, vacationing in Florida, said a Los Angeles Times report about covert Iranian arms shipments to Bosnia "is not news." The Washington Times first reported on the arms deliveries, and tacit administration approval for them, in June 1994.
"However, the reports that President Clinton secretly approved Iran's shipments is news - very disturbing news," said Mr. Dole, Kansas Republican.
The reports raise questions about whether the administration was "intentionally duplicitous in their dealings with the Congress" and whether laws were violated in the conduct of covert intelligence operations, Mr. Dole said.
House Speaker Newt Gingrich said through a spokesman that the president's policy on the Bosnian weapons deliveries "may have resulted in Iran's terrorist regime for the first time gaining a major foothold in Europe."
Administration officials confirmed that Mr. Clinton was aware of the Iranian arms shipments, and that U.S. officials were instructed to tell Croatian government officials that Washington took no position on the transfers.
However, the officials said the policy did not amount to a "green light" for Iran to arm the Bosnian government, and they insisted that the administration never said, in effect, "go ahead."
Mr. Dole, the likely GOP presidential nominee, played a key role last year in passing legislation requiring Washington to end the arms embargo. Mr. Clinton vetoed the measure, arguing that lifting the embargo would continue the bloody conflict and divide the NATO alliance.
Tony Blankley, Mr. Gingrich's spokesman, said the House Judiciary, International Relations, National Security and Intelligence committees have begun probes of the Bosnia arms policy.