1996 Congressional Hearings
Intelligence and Security

Peter Galbraith
U.S. Ambassador to Croatia
Iran/Bosnia Arms
House International Relations Committee
30 May 1996

Mr. Chairman, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this committee.

Two years ago the Bosnian government asked the Croatian government to permit the transit through Croatia of weapons for its beleaguered army. A principal supplier of these arms would be Iran. The Croatian government asked for our reaction, the administration decided we would not answer, and I told the Croatians I had no instructions. The Croatians understood this response and a subsequent colloquy described to you by Ambassador Redman to mean that we would not object to their role in helping the Bosnians. I believed then, and even more strongly now, that the administration made the right decision. Because of the arms, the Bosnians were able to survive. Eventually, the outside arms, which also came from countries other than Iran, enabled the Bosnians to redress the military imbalance with the Serbs, recover some territory, and thus help pave the way to Dayton.

To reiterate what Ambassador Redman has already told you, the Bosnian government and people were in desperate straits at the time the Croatians posed their question. The Bosnian Serbs, armed with the weapons of the old Yugoslav army, had seized 70 percent of Bosnia's territory. The Serbs had brutally cleansed this territory of its Muslim and Croat population. Already, more than 100,000 people, overwhelmingly civilians, had been killed. Gorazde, with 40,000 people, was under brutal assault and essentially defenseless. Equally threatened were the other enclaves, Srebrenica with 30,000 people, Zepa with 16,000 people, Bihac with 160,000 people and Sarajevo with 320,000 people. To make matters worse, if it were possible to make them worse, the Muslims and the Croats had just fought a vicious year-long war over the remaining 30 percent of Bosnian territory not held by the Serbs.

In the first diplomatic success of any kind since the start of the Balkan war, American diplomacy led by Ambassador Redman, and I was proud to have participated in that effort, had produced a new political arrangement between Croats and Muslims, the federation of Bosnia-Hercegovina, and that new political arrangement had ended the Muslim-Croat war.

The Bosnian people, left unarmed against the Serb aggressors, had barely survived the winter of 1993-94. Without help, we doubted they could survive another year.

This then was the context for our decision.

Let me explore for a minute the consequences if we had said no. Under these circumstances, I think the very fragile Muslim-Croat federation would have collapsed, as the Bosnians would have doubted the sincerity of their Croatian allies. Undefended, I believe the enclaves, including possibly Sarajevo, would have fallen either to the Serbs or to hunger and cold or to both. The death toll could have been in the hundreds of thousands.

I realized that many members of Congress favored a third alternative, unilaterally lifting the arms embargo. I will not rehash the familiar and in my view valid arguments about how such an action would have affected our other international obligations including the very important sanctions regime against Serbia and Montenegro or how it would have affected our relations with our allies.

I do believe a unilateral lifting of the arms embargo would have provoked the Bosnian Serbs to move against the essentially undefended enclaves. I do not believe that any program to train and equip the Bosnian army could have been in place quickly enough to save the enclaves. Therefore, the unilateral lifting of the arms embargo would have forced us to choose between sending in American combat troops to save the enclaves and to rescue our allies in the United Nations protection force, or standing aside as the enclaves fell and our allies in UNPROFOR were attacked. Neither option was in my view tenable.

Let me reiterate my belief that our decision was the right decision. This does not mean it was an easy decision. Iran, one of the principal suppliers of the arms, is an international menace, sponsoring terrorism around the world. Potential targets included the American diplomats in Zagreb, people for whose safety I am personally responsible.

The Iranians and their terrorist allies were present on the Bosnia-Croatia scene two years before the April 1994 conversations that are the subject of your inquiry. It was the war, not the arms pipeline, that gave the Iranians the opportunity to fish in troubled Balkan waters. It was the ability of the Bosnians to resist Serbian aggression, a resistance made possible in part by the arms, that created the military conditions on the ground that led to Dayton. And it is the Dayton agreement and the peace itself that is forcing the Iranians and their allies to leave the area.

Before answering your questions I would like to make two brief final points.

First, in spite of the attention now focused on the arms question, this was only an infinitesimal fraction of U.S. diplomatic efforts in Croatia. The conversations that Ambassador Redman and I have described consumed all of three minutes. The great bulk of my time and that of our embassy was devoted to the search for peace by building the Muslim-Croat federation as the lead U.S. negotiator in the C-4 talks aimed at finding a peaceful settlement between Zagreb and rebel Serbs based in Knin and as the co-mediator of the Eastern Slavonia agreement which, when it was signed on November 12th, 1995 not only set the stage for the peaceful reintegration of the last bit of Serb-held Croatia, Croatian territory, but also paved the way for Dayton.

Second, some of the issues under discussion today, including those related to terrorist threats to the embassy, involved very sensitive intelligence and security considerations. I hope you will understand if I prefer to discuss these in closed session.

Also, I am a currently serving ambassador. Croatian officials expect that conversations with me will be confidential. In some cases I may not be able to discuss publicly issues that other officials would feel free to discuss. Once again, I ask for your understanding.