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Perry: U.S. Troops Won’t Be Neutral

December 7, 1995

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Defense Secretary William Perry disputed the idea that U.S. forces will be neutral in Bosnia, saying Thursday that the United States wants peace for the Bosnian government and people.

In Congress, Senate Republicans continued work on a resolution giving qualified support to the deployment of 20,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops to Bosnia, but nearly half the members of the House expressed opposition.

``We urge you not to send ground troops to Bosnia,″ the House members wrote in a one-sentence letter to President Clinton.

Coming after a similar remark by U.S. negotiator Richard Holbrooke, Perry’s comment appeared to align the Clinton administration, and U.S. forces, more closely with Bosnia’s Muslim-led government.

``I don’t believe we are neutral,″ Perry said in remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. ``We believe that the Bosnian government and people have suffered atrocities and killings, and we don’t approach this as psychologically neutral. What we say we are, and what we will be, is evenhanded.″

The administration dispatched Holbrooke to Serbia, Croatia and Bosnia for final meetings with leaders in preparation of next week’s peace treaty signing.

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said Holbrooke will stress ``the absolutely critical need″ for the Bosnian government to remove from the country Iranian and other mujahedeen combatants who had joined the fight against rebel Serbs.

``We believe they do represent, possibly in the future, a threat to the American and other forces there, and we want that threat removed,″ Burns said. ``We don’t believe that their presence there is at all helpful and we won’t tolerate it.″

House members continued to gather signatures on their letter to Clinton, reaching 185 Republicans and 15 Democrats by Thursday afternoon. The president, meanwhile, formally notified Congress of the dispatch of 1,500 U.S. troops who are laying the groundwork for the mission. They will be fully in place by next Wednesday. He also authorized the deployment of 3,000 U.S. troops to Hungary, Italy and Croatia to support the main Bosnia mission.

Lawmakers are anxious to vote on the Bosnia deployment before next Thursday, when the final signing of the Dayton, Ohio, peace accord in Paris is expected to set in motion the dispatch of 20,000 U.S. soldiers.

``I don’t buy the conventional wisdom that this (deployment) can’t be stopped. It can,″ said Rep. Bob Inglis, R-S.C., one of the organizers of the letter to Clinton.

Freshmen House members overwhelmingly endorsed the letter to Clinton, but House Speaker Newt Gingrich, R-Ga., was not among the signers. If all 186 members voted against deployment, they would need only 32 more votes to gain a majority of the House.

The Clinton administration wants a congressional vote of support, but insists the troop mission will go ahead regardless.

At the Pentagon, Air Force Lt. Gen. Howell Estes, director of operations for the Joint Staff, said the 3,000 troops bound for Hungary would leave Friday. In addition, 12 cargo planes of the 50th Airlift Squadron in Little Rock, Ark., were to leave Friday for Germany to be in position to move troops into Bosnia.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., and Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., meanwhile, continued work on a resolution supporting the troop deployment.

According to a draft of the Dole-McCain proposal obtained by The Associated Press, the resolution would require that the United States ``lead an immediate effort, separate and apart from the NATO implementation force, to provide equipment, arms, training and related logistics assistance of the highest possible quality″ to the Bosnian government. The aid could include surplus U.S. arms.

Clinton wants to strengthen the Bosnian government military to reduce the chance of war breaking out. But administration officials warn that an overly explicit policy might lead rebel Bosnian Serbs to view the U.S. troops as partisans.

Perry’s disavowal of neutrality may be an effort to bridge the gap between the White House and Congress.

Under the administration policy, the U.S. troops would not take sides in the conflict or directly arm the Bosnian government. Some, as yet unspecified, third party would do that job.

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