1996 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security
U.S. Ambassador to Germany
House International Relations Committee
30 May 1996
I welcome this opportunity to discuss with you and your colleagues the situation in the Balkans in spring 1994, especially the decision neither to oppose nor to approve the transshipment of third-country arms through Croatia to the Bosnian government.
If I might, I would like to set the context with a very brief description of my activities prior to the events of April 29th.
I had negotiated the Federation agreement in March which ended the war between the Muslims and the Croats and made possible a new strategic alliance between the two former enemies. The next step was to be a territorial proposal which in combination with the political institutions of the federation would form the basis for further negotiations with the Bosnian Serbs. I went to Sarajevo on April 8th where I met with senior Bosnian government officials to discuss next steps on this territorial proposal.
Unfortunately, before that step could be taken, the Serbs launched a major attack on the Gorazde enclave. As you know, the Bosnian defenders were overwhelmed by Serb tanks and artillery, firing at point-blank range into the heart of the city. The U.N. was willing to authorize only the most limited use of NATO air power. I remained in Sarajevo throughout the Gorazde assault, returning to Washington on April 19th.
As a result of this Serb aggression, the negotiating process was back to square one. I left for London on April 24 to join with Secretary Christopher for talks with key allied ministers, a meeting which led to the creation of the Contact Group. As the United States representative, I spent April 26-27 with the Contact Group in Geneva preparing our common position before flying from Frankfurt into Sarajevo on April 28th.
After meeting with the Bosnian government on April 28 and traveling to Pale to meet with the Bosnian Serbs on April 29, I flew to Zagreb on the evening of April 29. I planned to brief Croatian government officials that evening on the activities of the Contact Group before departing for Washington early on April 30.
When I arrived in Zagreb, Ambassador Galbraith asked that I come to his residence before going on to the meeting with the Croatian officials. He briefed me on the question that had been posed by the Croatian government officials concerning the transshipment of arms for the Bosnian government and then placed a call to Washington to ascertain the response to that question. The responsible Washington official provided the no-instructions guidance.
I spoke to the same official to pass on a short debriefing on the work of the Contact Group in Sarajevo and Pale, but did not discuss the arms issue with which I had not been involved.
We then proceeded to our meeting with Croatian officials, where I provided a full briefing on the purpose of the newly formed Contact Group and its initial consultations in Sarajevo. Near the end of the formal meeting, the Croatians asked as expected if Ambassador Galbraith had an answer to their question. He used the no-instructions guidance. Still not completely sure what no instructions was intended to mean, a senior Croatian official asked me for further clarification as we walked into the dining room. I replied that the decision was one for the Croatians themselves to make and that the U.S. did not want to be put in the position of saying no. That was the full extent of my one and only exchange on this issue.
After dinner, Ambassador Galbraith and I discussed how to proceed in informing Washington of the results of the meeting. We both felt that Croatian intentions were quite clear and that they would in all likelihood proceed with their plans to assist the Bosnian government. Because the instructions had been relayed orally, I suggested that I could provide an oral debrief in Washington and determine if any other written follow-up would be necessary.
I returned to Washington on April 30. I arranged to debrief a senior White House official on the work of the Contact Group, and used that same meeting to pass on the report of our conversation with the Croatians. I noted our expectation that the transshipments would go forward. The White House official confirmed that he understood that expectation. He also said that no written reporting was required. I relayed that message to Ambassador Galbraith on May 2nd.
I had no further involvement with the issue after that time. I spent most of May, June, July and August in Europe in pursuit of Contact Group consultations.
In retrospect, I believe that the decision not to oppose the Croatian initiative was crucial to all that followed in the Balkans. The Bosnian government was in dire straits. The Serbs had overrun Gorazde in the most brutal fashion. The U.N. was not willing to engage NATO air power, even in the most compelling situation. The Federation had changed the strategic equation in Bosnia, with the Croatian initiative one of the first results of that new alliance. If we had attempted to block that initiative and succeeded, it very likely would have doomed the Federation and exacerbated an already desperate military situation for the Bosnians. Instead, the Bosnian armed forces held on and began to counterattack. The Federation survived, UNPROFOR remained in place, helping the Bosnians through another difficult winter, and we bought time for a combination of American diplomacy, NATO air power and Croatian and Bosnian military victories, to reach an historic peace agreement in Dayton.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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