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Multilateral Press Conference in Thessaloniki, Greece

Presenter: Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld
June 07, 2001

Wednesday, June 6, 2001

(Unofficial transcript of the multilateral press conference following the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) conducted at the Hyatt Hotel, Thessaloniki, Greece. The press conference followed the three-and-a-half hour meeting of defense ministers from Southeastern Europe. The Ukraine minister of defense also participated in the conferences as an observer.)

Greek Defense Minister Tsohatzopoulos: (Through translator) We have just concluded the informal meeting of the SEDM ministers, sessions of which have been taking place throughout the building. You have received a copy of the conclusions, so I am not going to read it to you, I am just going to pinpoint some items.

Today we had the opportunity to analyze current developments in the region. As a result, the ministers reiterated their support for the inviolability of existing borders, their respect for democratic processes, respect for human rights and the rights of minorities, as well as the promotion of economic and social development for all countries in the region.

Furthermore we underscored the importance of consolidating and coordinating regional security. That is why we note with satisfaction the international community's support for the measures taken by the UN, the EU, NATO and the OSCE for the management of the recent crisis. Moreover we reiterated our full support for the broad, all-party coalition government in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and we condemned the continuing terrorist activities by extremist elements. As ministers, we stressed the need to intensify inter-ethnic dialogue, particularly in (the FYROM) Parliament, and the need to enhance dialogue among party leaders in view of achieving important reforms, especially in the area of minority rights. We expressed our appreciation to the FYROM authorities for their desire to resolve the conflict and our support for the efforts undertaken by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo and KFOR.

We noted the importance of the Stability Pact, and given Mr. Hombach's presence at the meeting, we also asked about accelerating cooperation and implementation. With regard to the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, we discussed the criteria and steps needed for consideration of its potential membership in SEDM.

Moreover, there is the four-year-old SEEBRIG (Southeast European Brigade), which is now ready for operations. We had the opportunity to exchange views on its possible deployment for security purposes. That decision will be made in the autumn.

The floor is open for questions.

Q: (Through translator) For the Greek minister, in your capacity as chair of today's meeting. With regard to the dramatic turn of events in Skopje, do you and the defense ministers gathered here, intend to assist the FYROM government financially or militarily, or solely politically? How will you help the FYROM government fight the Albanian extremists, whom I note you did not refer to as terrorists in your summary?

Tsohatzopoulos: We express our sorrow for the casualties from the recent conflicts in FYROM. At the same time we gave our full support to the coalition government in FYROM, and naturally we condemned the terrorist activities of Albanian extremist elements. As our statement shows, we have taken a very clear stance with regard to providing institutional and political support. NATO is present in the area; Lord Robertson often pays visits to Skopje. And the EU is also present there; Javier Solana regularly visits the region. They work together with authorities regarding the stabilization process currently underway. On the basis of the aforementioned, we have every reason to be optimistic.

Q: (Through translator) A question for Ukrainian Defense Minister (Oleksandr) Kuzmuk. Today Ukraine officially attained observer status in this forum. Do you welcome this? Is it possible for Ukraine to send troops to SEEBRIG or other peacekeeping units in the area?

Tsohatzopoulos: SEDM procedures clearly define the rights and obligations for members and observers. As you recall, Ukraine received unanimous approval for observer status. As a result, Oleksandr Kuzmuk is here to attend the meeting as an observer. Regarding Ukraine's participation in future SEDM initiatives, it could take part in all initiatives, following a discussion, but yes, it is possible.

Kuzmuk: Today's meeting is important not just for Ukraine but for all the SEDM members, as part of the framework of activities in southeastern Europe. SEDM is more about stability in the region than a simple geographical definition. Moreover Ukraine is not a novice in solving the type of problems [seen in the region]. This is all part of our effort to link up to trans-Atlantic security structures.

Q: I have a question for the Macedonian and Bulgarian side, and another for Mr. Rumsfeld. Could you tell us more about the idea that NATO and KFOR should participate directly in the disarmament of the so-called Albanian National Army in Macedonia? I mean, when the Kosovo Liberation Army was disarming, and when the Liberation Army of Presevo was disarming, there was a prior political agreement. But with the so-called Albanian National Army, there is no political agreement. What do you see as the role of NATO and KFOR in the absence of such a political agreement?

And for Mr. Rumsfeld, do you think the idea of the direct participation of KFOR and NATO in the disarmament of the Albanian National Army is acceptable for NATO and KFOR?

FYROM Defense Ministry Representative: (Through translator) First of all the situation in the Presevo Valley and FYROM are completely different. In the FYROM, we are facing terrorists who are directly endangering our territorial integrity. The only link between the situation in Macedonia and that in Kosovo is the fact that most of the logistics and most of the terrorists are coming in from Kosovo.

On the other side, our appeal to the international community did not refer to any concrete request. On the issue of disarming the terrorists, Macedonia requests that the international community, and of course NATO and KFOR, intensify their support. They should employ all the methods and the means that would enable the terrorists to leave the country.

Bulgarian Defense Minister: Bulgaria has always supported the FYROM government's initiatives. This morning we heard a very strong appeal from our colleague Mr. Bukovski [phonetic] for a stronger involvement of the international community in his country. We do support this appeal. We do support the appeal to the international community to provide stronger support to the Macedonian government.

Rumsfeld: Thank you Mr. Chairman. First I would thank you for your hospitality. I think this relatively new institution, the Southeastern Europe Defense Ministerial meeting, is making a most useful contribution, and I thank you for your leadership. I also I want to welcome the Ukrainian minister of defense. Certainly we're delighted you've joined us as an observer. As your country moves towards democratic and market reforms we encourage your participation in Euro-Atlantic institutions.

I was in Kosovo and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia yesterday. I met with the minister of defense there. In response to the question, I would say that of course any changes or adjustments would need to be discussed at NATO and in capitals. But I should say that the United States is committed to working on regional issues, and NATO has responded to any number of requests from FYROM. They have reinforced the troop presence on the Kosovo side of the FYROM border. NATO leaders have sent unmistakable messages to the Albanian extremists to refrain from armed conflict. Various NATO countries, including the United States, have assisted with respect to intelligence and equipment, training, and there is currently a NATO representative on the ground. Certainly the United States strongly supports the all-party government of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and recognizes the very difficult situation they face. We are most appreciative of the effort that the minister of defense made to be with us this morning, and certainly recognize the need he had to return home promptly.

Q: I have a question for Secretary Rumsfeld. This is a meeting where future NATO members meet with current members. We know that some of the SEDM countries have applied for NATO membership. We know that in 2002 we may have an enlargement of the organization. What is the US view on further enlargement, and would the US endorse the inclusion of Balkan countries? When would they join?

Rumsfeld: As I mentioned in the ministerial meetings we just had, the process is just beginning with respect to additional nations joining NATO, and it does, as you suggest, run into the year 2002. The United States position has been clear -- that we do favor an open door policy, and recognize that certain conditions need to be met by the applicant countries.

(Unofficial transcript provided by U.S. Embassy, Greece.)

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