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As Situation in Sarajevo Worsens, Jews Lobby Officials in Washington

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As conditions in Sarajevo deteriorated sharply this week, a group of Jewish organizational officials descended on Washington to urge the Clinton administration and members of Congress to do more for the besieged former Yugoslav republic of Bosnia-Herzegovina.

But the administration had already announced it would not take further steps to help the Muslims of Bosnia, who have come under increasing attack from advancing Serbian forces.

At a news conference Wednesday prior to his departure for Asia and the Middle East, Secretary of State Warren Christopher said the United States had done all it could to help the Bosnians, including providing humanitarian aid.

“That’s a tragic, tragic situation in Bosnia, make no mistake about that. It’s the world’s most difficult diplomatic problem. It defies any simple solution,” Christopher said.

Those comments elicited sharp criticism from one Jewish organization. In a statement Thursday, the American Jewish Congress called Christopher’s remarks “the most appalling in a series of recent actions and statements by this administration distancing itself from the tragedy from Bosnia.

“The cold indifference to the massive human catastrophe in Bosnia expressed by this administration’s policy constitutes a betrayal of fundamental American values no less than of America’s national interest,” said the AJCongress statement, which was issued by Robert Lifton, the group’s president, and Henry Siegman, its executive director.

Jewish groups have been actively lobbying for months to encourage the United States to take stronger action, including military action if necessary, to help the Bosnian Muslims.

When President Clinton took office, Jewish groups had high hopes that the new administration would take a more forceful policy to help the Bosnian Muslims, who have been the victims of an “ethnic cleansing” campaign, mounted primarily by Serbs.

‘DOING ALL THAT WE CAN’

To many in the Jewish community, the “ethnic cleansing” conjured up eerie images of the Nazi Holocaust and spurred Jewish officials to ensure that something be done to help the Muslims. Jewish groups have encouraged the administration to lift the arms embargo on Bosnia, for example.

But in recent months, Jewish officials have been expressing frustration that the administration, like its predecessor, has been reluctant to take a stronger stand.

On Thursday, a delegation of seven Jewish officials, led by the National Jewish Community Relations Advisory Council, held meetings all day on Capitol Hill and with officials at the White House and Pentagon.

Sarajevo, the Bosnian capital, is currently under siege from Serb forces, and that fact changed the entire “temperament of why we came here,” said Abraham Bayer, NJCRAC’s director of international concerns, who helped organize Thursday’s meetings.

Bayer said the delegation came to express the “enormous distress of the Jewish community” over the situation in Bosnia, adding, “Our purpose is to shake up the people.”

The delegation met with Sens. Joseph Biden (D-Del.), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on European affairs, and Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), as well as aides to Sens. Robert Dole (R-Kan.) and Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.).

In addition, the group held meetings with White House, Pentagon and National Security Council policy specialists.

The United States has blamed much of the current disastrous situation in the former Yugoslavia on America’s European allies.

Christopher repeatedly said that the United States “was doing all that we can consistent with our national interest.”

In addition to providing humanitarian aid, the United States has supported the imposition of sanctions on Serbia and the institution of a war crimes tribunal, Christopher said.

Other groups participating in the meetings were the Anti-Defamation League, American Jewish Committee, American Jewish Congress, B’nai B’rith and the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs.

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