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DoD News Briefing: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen

Presenter: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen
March 24, 1997 4:00 PM EDT
Alija Izetbegovic, of the Republic of Bosnia and Herzegovina, to the Pentagon]

Secretary Cohen: It's my privilege to welcome President Izetbegovic to his first visit to the Pentagon. This is, indeed, our first meeting and we will take this occasion to discuss the situation in Bosnia.

Just several weeks ago, I had occasion to visit Bosnia. And, I saw some marked signs of improvement from the previous trip that I had made there. There was a peace that was in existence. I saw factories that were starting up. I saw fields that were being plowed. And, I saw farmers going back to till the land. So, there are some very positive signs that are taking place in Bosnia -- thanks to the presence of the S Force [SFOR]. As we know, the S Force will be leaving in June of 1998, and we have roughly 17 or 18 months of hard work ahead of us in which we make the second half of Dayton successful.

The military mission has been successful. We now have to focus on making the civilian-side of that equation equally successful. And, that's what the president and I will be discussing -- along with our staffs -- in the next several minutes. So, we welcome your questions.

Q: Mr. President, can peace be viable in Bosnia in that span of time? And, also, as long as indicted war crimes suspects such as Karadzic and Mladic are still at large can a true peace be achieved?

A: The peace can not be insured until Karadzic and Mladic will be sent to the Tribunal. They're both of them -- they are on the scene, especially Karadzic. And, he influences Serbian politics. And, until they are [as long as] both of them are free, there is no real peace in Bosnia.

Q: Should the United States do more to get rid of the war criminals?

A: I insist on that. I said to the Defense Secretary that it is essential. And, maybe he can answer better than me to the question.

Q: Mr. President, what is your main agenda, today? What will you be asking of the Defense Secretary?

A: First, that equip-and-train be implemented fully and accelerated, because until now the program has been implemented only 20 percent -- no more. Another question which is very important for us is that the Vienna agreement that decreases the disarmament -- I said to the Secretary that the Serbs don't honor the agreement and they didn't decrease the armament so far. I ask from the states that they make a press on the Serbian side to fulfill their obligation.

Q: Mr. President, do you think it would be a mistake for NATO and the United States to pull out of Bosnia in 18 months?

A: It's up top the states. But, we want, of course, that they remain there. But if, in meantime, we have equip-and-train and if the Vienna agreement will be fulfilled -- the decrees of armament -- and if the civil aspect of the Dayton agreement will be fulfilled and implemented then, maybe -- and, of course, if Bosnia would be received in the Partnership of Peace, then, maybe the troops can withdraw without many problems.