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Secretary Cohen Press Opportunity While Visiting the Troops at Tuzla, Bosnia

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
December 23, 1999

Press Opportunity While Visiting the Troops at Tuzla, Bosnia for Christmas

Q: Could you make a brief statement about the holiday show?

Secretary Cohen: It is an honor to be here with these people to entertain the troops and to pay tribute to the men and women who are serving us. It is a great sacrifice on their part and we are the beneficiaries of it - we in the United States and all the countries who are participating and especially the Bosnian people, who are enjoying the peace and hopefully the blessings of freedom as well.

Q: I spent most of my time out here today just working with people in the area who are on duty. A lot of these people pretty much said that they just as soon be on duty as in the show, they like their jobs and they all talked about their work ethic, which really kind of surprised me. What do you think about that?

Secretary Cohen: First, let me say I am not surprised by the reaction you got in asking these questions because it turns out that we have the highest re-enlistment rate anywhere in our country and in any service of those who have come to Bosnia to help maintain the peace in this country. And so it comes as no surprise and that's one of the reasons we are so grateful to all of the people who are serving here.

The men and women who are serving here know that they are helping people to enjoy the blessings that we as Americans have known for many years. They feel good about what they are doing, they feel good about themselves, and they feel good about their country. And so I am especially eager always to come over during a holiday season, and to bring as many people as we can, to say a very profound thank-you .

And I regret that my wife, Janet, is not here today because she feels deeply committed to the men and women who are serving us and to all of their families. Today is her birthday and unfortunately she has the flu and could not come with us, but she is with us in her heart and her spirit.

Q: (First part inaudible)... U.S. troops and NATO troops in Bosnia. Do you foresee in the next year that the number of troops will continue to decrease for the U.S. and for NATO and what would have to happen for that to happen?.

Secretary Cohen: Well, we have seen a progressive decline in the number of troops that we in the United States and the other members of NATO have committed to Bosnia and that is because of the situation changing rather profoundly in Bosnia itself. So, we would anticipate, if things continue to progress as they have, that we would see another reduction in the size of our commitment and that of other nations.

Q: [In Serbo-Croatian: Is there a possibility of a change in US policy toward Chechnya?]

Secretary Cohen: Well, as you know, the United States and all of the international community have spoken out very strongly about what is taking place in Chechnya. On the one hand, we understand that acts of terrorism cannot go without response. But, by the same token, we try to indicate to the Russians that they have really stepped across the bounds of international acceptable behavior in dealing with Chechnya. There has to be a political settlement and we have been calling upon the Russians to do precisely that. And there is very much at stake -- economically and diplomatically -- ultimately in our dealings with Russia.

Q: [In Serbo-Croatian, virtually inaudible, something about an American Secretary of Defense visiting with soldiers from other countries.]

Secretary Cohen: Well, I feel very close to all of you who are serving all of us. It's one of the greatest experiences that any of us can have -- to look at the faces of the young men and women, and the older men and women, who are serving us and to say thank you. I say that to all of the Americans, but also to the forces who are here from Turkey, Poland, the Baltic countries, to the many nationalities that are represented here, including the Russians. We want the Russians to work with us. They have been an important part of the peacekeeping mission here in Bosnia and they are an important part of the peacekeeping mission in Kosovo. We need to work with them. And so it's an opportunity for me to say thank you to the Russians, the Polish, the Italians, the Baltic countries, and Turks who are represented here. Really, it's just part of my job to thank them. I feel, and I said this before, that we have many (countries here) and from the many is one. We have one force here, and that's the force for peace.

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