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Engaging Russia at Center of Recent Cohen Trip

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 15, 2000 – Keeping the Russians engaged in Europe and with America emerged as the theme for Defense Secretary William S. Cohen’s latest trip to Europe.

And Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to agree, because he focused on the bridging of gaps between the United States and Russia during his June 13 meeting with Cohen, a senior defense official said.

The secretary traveled to Belgium, Lithuania, Sweden and Russia during his trip. At every stop, he hammered home the point that the United States and all countries of Europe must look for ways to engage with Russia.

“It is important that the Baltic states and other members of the European Community and NATO itself seek to find ways in which we can cooperate on many levels with Russia -- be it in environmental protection, disaster relief, peacekeeping operations -- wherever we can,” Cohen said following meetings of the Nordic-Baltic-U.S. Ministerial in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Cohen said he was encouraged last week by the presence of Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev at the NATO- Russia Permanent Joint Council. Russia had boycotted the meetings since NATO launched its 1999 air war against Yugoslavia.

“I am glad that Russia is back at the Permanent Joint Council because an expanded dialogue between NATO and Russia will be an important contribution to European security,” Cohen said following the June 9 council meeting in Brussels.

The United States and Russia will expand military-to- military contacts. Cohen and Sergeyev both said U.S. and Russian troops work well together in Kosovo and Bosnia. They would like to see more exercises involving air and naval forces.

Cohen also broached the subject of U.S. and Russian forces training together before their deployment to Kosovo. He said he would like to see more U.S.-Russian and multilateral exercises held under the Partnership for Peace program.

“I think, symbolically, it is also very important to continue to send the signal that the United States and Russia can and are working together on a number of very important projects in a spirit of friendship and cooperation,” he said during the opening of his meeting with Sergeyev.

Cohen said the United States and Russia must continue dialogue, especially in areas where they disagree. For instance, the United States would like to amend the 1972 Anti-ballistic Missile Treaty to allow a limited National Missile Defense program, and the Russians oppose.

“We need to find out (Russian) concerns and apprehensions and address them point-by-point,” he said. “We are raising the issues that surface, discussing them over the table and then narrowing the differences.”

At one time, Russia contended no long-range ballistic missile threat existed, Cohen said. Now, Russia and the United States agree in principle that five to eight emerging threat areas exist, but not on when the threat could become real. The United States says 2005, the Russians say later.

“So what President Putin said was, work together with his team of experts to see if we can’t narrow differences in terms of the timeframe of when the threat will materialize,” Cohen said.

The Russians suggested they would provide a “nonstrategic missile defense” instead of the United States fielding its limited National Missile Defense, Cohen said. The United States is prepared to work with the Russians on missile defense, he said, but the Russian proposal does not look like a viable NMD alternative.

Engaging Russia is important to the world, Cohen said. “We're looking for ways in which we can help create the investment opportunities again for Russia, because we want to see your economy start to prosper,” he told Russian TV. “We believe it's important to have a strong, democratic and prosperous Russia, because if that is the case there will be greater stability throughout Europe. We understand that and we want to promote that.”

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