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Cohen Thanks Greek Allies for Support to NATO

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ATHENS, Greece, July 15, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen thanked Greece for its support of NATO's peacekeeping efforts in Kosovo during a visit here July 13 and 14.

"Greece and the United States have been allies for more than 50 years," Cohen said. "We are bound by common values. We have long worked together on important defense and security issues. Now we are working together to create stability in the Balkans. We both want an enduring peace to replace the fighting that has occurred there."

Cohen met Greek Defense Minister Akis Tzohatzopoulos July 13 in Thessaloniki. A senior defense official traveling with Cohen said U.S.-Greek relations have been strained in the past few months because of widespread Greek opposition to NATO's Operation Allied Force.

Tzohatzopoulos said at a press conference that 90 percent of those polled in some public opinion surveys were against the conflict. He said through an interpreter that the Greek government handled the matter by facing up to its responsibility as a NATO member, by promoting peace rather than conflict and by supporting humanitarian aid to establish peace and stability.

"There is no doubt that this mission could not have been carried out without the support of the Greek government," Cohen said, expressing gratitude on the behalf of the United States and NATO. Greek forces did not participate in Allied Force, he noted, but Greece has now deployed about 550 soldiers to serve with KFOR in the American sector of Kosovo.

Greek officials are also allowing the allies to use Thessaloniki in their stabilization efforts, Cohen said. U.S. and other NATO armed forces are presently landing troops and equipment at the Aegean port and moving them into Kosovo via Macedonia.

Thessaloniki will be a major player in regional reconstruction, Cohen said. The United States plans to open an office in the city to participate in rebuilding of the Balkans, he added, calling on the international community to join the effort. The Balkans, he said, are making a common effort to establish freedom, democracy and a free market economy.

Queried on the long-standing Greek-Turkish dispute over Cyprus, Cohen told local officials and reporters that the United States hopes to encourage the two NATO allies to reach a peaceful resolution. He said recent talks between the two nations' foreign ministers and military-to-military contacts between the Greek and Turkish navies are important steps toward this end.

"The more dialogue the better," Cohen said. "As long as there is talk -- discussions -- that has the capacity to reduce tensions and to find a reasonable, peaceful resolution of the dispute."

U.S.-Greek ties remain strong, according to U.S. officials. In the last year, Greece bought or is in the process of buying about $4 billion in U.S. equipment, including Patriot missiles and F-16 fighters.

Tzohatzopoulos said the world is characterized increasingly by globalization, and, in order to achieve security, Greece must create modern, effective armed forces to serve as a deterrent. "This is a principle enshrined as Greece's military doctrine," he said.

Concluding the two-day visit, Cohen said, "I leave with great confidence that Greece and the United States are entering an even stronger relationship -- partnership -- for the future."

From Greece, Cohen flew to Turkey to visit U.S. service members supporting Operation Northern Watch and to meet with local government officials. Ankara would be the secretary's last stop on his European trip before heading back to Washington July 15.

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