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Cohen Praises Can Do Attitude, Promises to Help

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

BUCHAREST, Romania, Nov. 30, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen praised nations participating in the Southeast European Defense Ministerial here, saying the countries exemplify the “can do” spirit America admires.

Romania hosted the conference at Cerc Militar -- an ornate Romanian officers' club in downtown Bucharest. The ministerial, started in 1995, consists of four NATO countries -- the United States, Italy, Greece and Turkey -- working with five Partnership for Peace countries -- Slovenia, Albania, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Bulgaria and Romania. The nine nations are working to establish cooperative efforts to ensure stability in the region.

Cohen thanked the Southeastern European nations for their support during NATO Operation Allied Force. He said there was no question that Serb aggression in Kosovo directly threatened the peace of the Balkans and the stability of NATO’s southeast region. The help provided by the nations of southeast Europe was critical to NATO’s success, he said.

Operation Allied Force could not have been conducted without the political and diplomatic support provided by the NATO allies and the Partnership for Peace nations, particularly those near the theater of conflict, Cohen said. These nations also provided vital infrastructure, transit rights, basing access and troops.

Cohen said the fact that the countries are working together in an area often wracked by dissension and strife is a positive sign. After winning the war in Kosovo “we must now win the peace by strengthening democracy, promoting trade and investment, and supporting the region’s full integration into Europe,” he said.

Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc echoed Cohen’s remarks. “Our meeting is taking place at a stage of dynamic changes in the European security environment,” Babiuc said. With the end of the war in Kosovo, it is necessary to strengthen the framework of political and military consultations and decisions to keep the region stable and put the area on the path to prosperity, he said.

Cohen cited five basic security goals for the region. The first is to form a network of cooperation among defense establishments of the region. The second is to significantly improve interoperability with NATO. The third is to build "transparency” into defense matters including open budgets and exercises to build trust and avoid misunderstandings. Fourth, is to achieve “good neighborly relations” among all parties. Finally, Cohen called on all parties to resolve conflicts peacefully.

Cohen offered U.S. help toward achieving these goals. U.S. service members are already helping the Romanian military. A team of U.S. Marines is spending two years near the city of Pitesti training Romanian service members how to be NCOs. (See related AFPS story U.S. Marines Help Build Romanian NCO Corps.)

“Through NATO’s Southeastern Europe Initiative, we are beginning to consciously tailor Partnership for Peace programs and exercises and to coordinate allied assistance to partners to better meet security needs of the region,” he said.

Integrating the nations into Europe would be a difficult task, but not an impossible one, Cohen said. He urged area nations to follow Western Europe's example after World War II. He said the European initiative that followed on the heels of the Marshal Plan has blossomed into the European Union.

“We now see a democratic, prosperous Euro-Atlantic community, where you can drive from France to Germany and never see a border checkpoint and, more importantly, where the very idea of armed conflict between the two is simply inconceivable to their citizens,” Cohen said.

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