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Cohen to Confer with Russian Defense Chief on Kosovo

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 16, 1999 – Russian troops introduced an element of confusion during NATO's initial KFOR deployment when they moved into the airport in Pristina, Kosovo, but their "unplanned," "unsynchronized" move is not hindering NATO's mission, according to Defense Secretary William S. Cohen

"The Serbs are moving out according to their agreement," Cohen said en route to Europe June 15. "NATO is moving in -- and so the presence of 180 or 200 of the Russian forces in Pristina is not really any impediment to our carrying out this particular mission. It did interject some confusion into the situation, but I think that can be worked out."

Cohen departed Washington June 15 aboard an Air Force jet bound for Helsinki, Finland. He is slated June 16 to meet with Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, who teamed with Russian envoy Viktor Chernomyrdin as brokers of the peace agreement between NATO and Yugoslavia; and with Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev, to discuss options for Russia's participation in KFOR.

Russia has made it clear it wants a role in the Kosovo peace implementation mission, and the United States and NATO are equally eager to find an appropriate one, he said.

"We are trying to find ways in which they can play an important role and still maintain our basic and crucial criteria," Cohen said. "We are now going to examine some of those options -- trying to be as creative as we can -- while still adhering to the basic principles that there must be a unified command [and] that there can be no separate sector for Russia."

Cohen said he spoke with Sergeyev by telephone prior to leaving the Pentagon. The Russian defense chief told him President Boris Yeltsin had instructed him to resolve these issues constructively. Cohen said he expects to make good progress during the meeting and then report back to NATO.

"Nothing can be really agreed upon as being final without it going to NATO and the North Atlantic Council," he said.

Determining Russia's role in KFOR is representative of Russia's full integration across the spectrum of European affairs, Cohen said. "There's a lot at stake here for Russia and for all of Europe and for the United States," he said. "We've indicated so many times you cannot have a stable Europe without having a stable and secure Russia."

Cohen's meeting with Sergeyev is part of a three-pronged diplomatic effort. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright is scheduled to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov June 17 in Helsinki. President Clinton is slated to attend a Group of Eight summit starting June 18 in Cologne, Germany, and to confer there with Yeltsin.

Following meetings in Helsinki, Cohen was scheduled to travel to Brussels to attend a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO headquarters.

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