Croatian PM Voices Support for U.S. Policy of Preemption
By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Feb. 9, 2004 Croatia's prime minister gave a firm show of support Feb. 8 to the U.S. policy of preemption.
During a joint press conference with U.S. Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, who made a brief stop in the Croatian capital of Zagreb, Prime Minister Ivo Sanader voiced his agreement with "preventive action."
Sanader said the war among former Yugoslav nations in the early 1990s could have been prevented if the international community had had "the will to undertake preventive actions to preempt (Serbian President Slobodan) Milosevic's aggression and aggressive policies."
Tens of thousands of lives and tens of billions of dollars in damages could have been saved "had there been the will for preventive action," he said.
Rumsfeld was in Europe attending an international security conference in Munich, Germany. He stopped in Croatia for several hours before returning to Washington late Feb. 8.
A planned trip to London was dropped from the schedule. Officials said the London trip was to give Rumsfeld an opportunity to meet with his British counterpart, Geoffery Hoon. The two ended up having adequate time to meet in Munich.
In Croatia, the secretary said he has "been impressed with the progress that Croatia has been making with respect to its objectives relating to NATO, and certainly with respect to defense reforms."
Croatian officials have made clear their aspirations to join NATO. The country participates in the alliance's Partnership for Peace program, and has a Membership Action Plan with the international body.
Croatia and the other two countries with such a plan, Albania and Macedonia, are working together toward NATO membership, a senior U.S. defense official explained.
The United States and Croatia have had close military-to-military ties for several years, officials said. The countries have participated in naval exercises together, and the United States has worked to help Croatia in defense reforms.
Croatia is working to downsize its military. These efforts are made harder by a high unemployment rate, which has dropped over the past few years, but remains around 18 percent.
Croatia also has been working hard to build a professional noncommissioned officer corps and to find the right balance between contract and conscripted service members, the official said.
A 50-member Croatian military police unit is serving with the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the Croatian government is considering sending reconstruction assets to that country, Sanader said.
He mentioned that Rumsfeld had brought up the possibility of Croatia sending military support to Iraq. The prime minister said his government would give the proposal "serious consideration." In discussions on the subject, the prime minister said, his country will concentrate on the possibility of sending assistance in humanitarian aspects of the mission, possibly medical care.
Sanader also expressed support for the U.S. position on the International Criminal Court. The United States declined to endorse to the international court, saying its guidelines are too vague and far-reaching, and don't provide protections from political prosecutions.
The United States is encouraging friendly countries to sign so-called Article 98 agreements. Article 98 allows countries to make bilateral agreements that would provide protections for American service members and government officials against prosecution under the court.
Croatia has not signed such an agreement with the United States, but Sanader said the Croatian government has an "understanding for the U.S. position." He said he believes the United States would fairly prosecute anyone who broke international laws.
"Europe, without its transatlantic partner the U.S., is incapable of solving many of its problems," Sanader said, noting that the United States often is asked to assist when other countries have intractable problems. Because of this, it would then be unfair to ask for help and then bring charges against those troops, he said.
In a light moment during the press conference, the secretary joked about "being appreciative of the fact that (Croatia has) sent superb basketball players to help the Chicago Bulls become famous around the world." Rumsfeld, a Chicago native, was referring to former Bulls player Toni Kukoc.
At the close of today's press conference, Rumsfeld said he values the relationship the United States has with Croatia and "looks forward to continuing to work with Croatia in a variety of different ways."