WASHINGTON -- While keeping up his criticism of the Clinton administration's actions in Bosnia, Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole is backing away from moves to force a sharp change in U.S. Balkan policy.
Mr. Dole, a Republican presidential candidate, has stopped pressing for an early end to the arms embargo imposed on Bosnia's Muslim-led government, according to congressional aides. His original plan put Mr. Dole on a collision course with the Clinton administration and with the United States' European allies.
Instead, he has added significant conditions to the lifting of the embargo, and now favors waiting at least three months before putting it into effect. This would likely give the administration and the Europeans more time to try to achieve a diplomatic solution.
"Dole was really being saddled with the consequences," says Susan Woodward, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who has followed the Bosnian conflict closely. "He was in a dilemma: not wishing to reverse his policy of four years, but seeing the political risks rising substantially."
There have been reports of an internal conflict between Mr. Dole's foreign policy advisers, who have pushed for a tough stand on Bosnia, and his political advisers, who fear that he could be held responsible for a policy failure.
During the 1992 campaign, candidate Bill Clinton advocated a get-tough policy against the Bosnian Serbs, including airstrikes, that he later largely abandoned in the face of European opposition.
Mr. Dole, in toning down his own approach, appears to be bowing to a widespread reluctance by members of Congress to impose their own policy on a region of the world where ethnic conflict is endemic.
At the same time, he has accused the administration of supporting a "multilateral mess" in Bosnia and has helped block U.S. financial support for a European quick-reaction force to beef up the U.N. peacekeeping force there.
A consistent advocate of the Bosnian cause, Mr. Dole argues that the Bosnians have been unfairly penalized by the arms embargo imposed on all of Yugoslavia by the United Nations Security Council. The embargo has effectively locked in place the Bosnian Serbs' advantage in heavy weaponry, allowing them to keep control of the 70 percent of Bosnian territory that they gained during heavy fighting in 1992.
In early January, the Republican leader introduced a resolution requiring the United States to end the arms embargo by May 1, or earlier if the Bosnians requested it. But Mr. Dole, who controls the flow of legislation on the Senate floor, never brought the measure up for a vote, and its May deadline passed.
Meanwhile, members of Congress who supported the Dole move came under increasing criticism from Britain and France, the countries that have supplied most of the U.N. peacekeeping force now in Bosnia. Both countries claimed that ending the arms embargo would cause a serious escalation of the conflict, force a withdrawal of peacekeeping forces and end humanitarian relief efforts.
Touching a sensitive nerve with Congress, the Clinton administration in recent weeks has said that a unilateral lifting of the embargo by the United States would not only undercut other U.N. sanctions efforts but would "Americanize" the Balkan war. Officials have said that President Clinton would be urged by his advisers to veto the measure.
The current draft of Mr. Dole's revised legislation would force a lifting of the arms embargo if the Bosnian government notified the Security Council that it wanted the peacekeepers to withdraw. So far, the Bosnians have not done so. And even if they did, the embargo would not be lifted for three months, according to the draft legislation.
Alternately, the embargo could be lifted after the peacekeeping forces have been withdrawn.
Dole aides say the senator plans to introduce the new version of his legislation before the end of this week and bring it to a vote after the Senate returns from its July 4 recess.
"It's a more responsible position," said a Democratic congressional aide. But it could still undercut the president, the aide said. "Essentially it would be a congressional takeover of a key policy."