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U.S., Greek Defense Ministers Meet

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 28, 1998 – The U.S. and Greek defense chiefs discussed Kosovo, the Balkans, Cyprus and Greek-U.S. cooperation during a recent Pentagon meeting.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Greek Minister of National Defense Apostolos-Athanasio Tsokhatzopoulos stressed both countries want to see a negotiated settlement in Kosovo. Both said they favored greater autonomy for the Serb province, but not outright independence.

"We think a diplomatic solution is the only viable solution [in Kosovo], and we think a military option is the very last option," Cohen said at a post-meeting press conference July 8.

"The NATO countries are in agreement," Cohen continued. "On the one hand we do not want to see [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic indulge in the kind of attacks upon innocent civilians and disproportionate force that has been used in the past. But, by the same token, we do not want to see any action taken by NATO that could then be construed as lending support, either moral or military, to those seeking independence."

Tsokhatzopoulos said the world community ought to support Kosovar Albanian leader Ibrahim Rugova and help him establish an infrastructure in Serbia that will allow Kosovo to have its autonomy.

Cohen and Tsokhatzopoulos also discussed steps to reduce tensions on Cyprus. The Mediterranean island, inhabited by ethnic Greeks and Turks, has been a flashpoint between the two NATO allies since Greek Cypriots tried to force a union with Greece in 1974. Turkey invaded and occupied what later became the island's northern partition.

The 1974 hostilities divided the island into two autonomous areas, a Greek area (59 percent of the island) controlled by the internationally recognized Cypriot government, and the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (37 percent), formed on Nov. 15, 1983, and recognized only by Turkey. A U.N. buffer zone separates the two.

The ethnic makeup of the island is 78 percent Greek, 18 percent Turkish and 4 percent all others. Virtually no ethnic Greeks and Turks live on the side controlled by the other. Both sides publicly call for the resolution of differences and creation of a new federal system of government.

Greece and Turkey, however, recently sent warplanes to Cyprus, and Turkey has threatened to install S-300 missiles. Cohen said one idea being explored to reduce tensions is the creation of a no-fly zone over the island. Tsokhatzopoulos stressed that general disarmament and a dialogue between Turkish and Greek Cypriots are more important in the long run.

Other discussion topics were U.S. willingness to help Greece modernize its forces and relations between Greece and Turkey.

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