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Cohen Talks Kosovo, Iraq With European Allies

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

BONN, Germany, Feb. 9, 1999 – U.S. forces will serve in Kosovo if an agreement is reached to end the conflict between the Serbs and ethnic-Albanian separatists, Defense Secretary William Cohen assured European allies here.

"President Clinton has indicated that U.S. troops would participate in a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo if a peace agreement is reached, but the majority of the load should be born by European countries," Cohen said Feb. 8 at a joint press conference with German Defense Minister Rudolf Scharping.

"European nations, working through NATO, are taking a much more active role in meeting this region's security challenges," Cohen said. "The search for a solution to Kosovo and the crisis there is a prime example of that level of cooperation. We applaud this development."

Cohen said the NATO's strength is based on the fact European security and U.S. security are inseparable. "The United States is always going to play its part in the trans-Atlantic alliance," he said.

But, Cohen added, the United States is also dealing with other global security interests, particularly in Asia and the Middle East, so it is appropriate for Europeans to play a greater role in resolving their own challenges. European allies are growing "more confident and cohesive," he noted.

Great Britain and France have announced they will contribute ground troops to a Kosovo mission. Scharping said Germany agrees any peace agreement needs the buttress -- "military warranty" -- of NATO forces. The allies are planning a mission now, he added, and the form it takes will be determined over the next two weeks.

U.S. participation in a NATO-led Kosovo mission depends on both sides committing to a settlement and establishing an environment conducive to peace, Cohen said. The NATO allies don't contemplate entering a nonpermissive environment -- they don't want to become a global security force, he noted.

"We would be there to keep the peace, not to make a peace," Cohen said. "We do not want to see a situation in which NATO forces are committed to the region only as an excuse for one or more parties to try to take advantage and exploit it to achieve something inconsistent with the agreement itself," he said.

Cohen is on an eight-day trip to Europe and Africa. He left Washington Feb. 4, met with Spanish officials in Madrid and flew to Munich to attend an international security conference. He traveled Feb. 6 to Bonn, capital of the former West Germany, and then headed to South Africa.

Cohen and Scharping also discussed the NATO allies' growing sense of continental security and defense and the need to combat weapons of mass destruction. "Just as NATO has adapted to deal with instability on its periphery, it must also be able to respond to new security threats that target Europe, and this includes the threat of biological and chemical weapons," he said.

Reporters quizzed Cohen on Iraq, with one asking what might be behind the recent quiet there after weeks of almost daily confrontations in the no-fly zones.

"One who would endeavor to try to calculate Saddam Hussein's motivations would be entering into a fool's paradise," he said. "No one should try to anticipate what he is thinking at the moment. What we have to do is be prepared for any action he might take."

Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf are structured to contain Saddam so he doesn't move north or south, Cohen said. "We will continue to do that as we seek to work with opposition groups to bring about a regime change over a period of time. In the meantime, we have to be prepared for any contingency. We remain prepared, vigilant and always at the ready."

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