Defense Blagoj Handziski, of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, to the Pentagon.]
Secretary Cohen: I'm welcoming Mr. Handziski to the Pentagon. He has been here on a number of occasions before today. We will discuss ways in which we can continue our effort with his country with our U.N. forces, where we have some 500 members of the United States forces serving in that capacity, and we will discuss ways in which we can hopefully continue our presence into the future and other matters of interest on the European continent perhaps. So we welcome your questions.
Q. Mr. Secretary, are you disheartened by the testimony of rape and sexual abuse coming from young female soldiers at the trial of Staff Sgt. Delmar Simpson?
A: Well, obviously, I have to wait until the entire evidence is in, but any time allegations of sexual misconduct on the part of our military is of concern, but in my position I have to wait until the trial is finally complete before making any kind of a statement. It is of a serious concern, allegations of this nature, but we should wait until the final outcome.
Q: Mr. Secretary, what directions have you given the services regarding the first anniversary, or rather, the anniversary of Waco and the Oklahoma City bombings?
A: I'm sorry. What directions?
Q: What directions have you given them to observe?
A: The directions are for each commander, each facility to make a determination as to what they believe -- he or she believes -- to be the best force protection that's necessary for their troops, and it's an individual matter. Each base, each facility, each commander will make that determination. There has been no Defense-wide directive on this anniversary.
Q: Can we have a question on Macedonia, please? Gentlemen, how long should American troops remain in Macedonia?
Minister Handziski: It's a very sensitive question, but before I try to answer your question, let me remind you that I come from the Republic of Macedonia, a small country situated right in the heart of the Balkans. We succeeded to gain independence less than six years ago peacefully, and which managed to get out from the former Yugoslav crisis without a war.
In this turmoiled region, my country all along has been producing peace rather than conflicts and tensions, and a large part of the credit for this goes to the United States, a country which from the very beginning of our independence is extending to us a sincere and principal support.
The presence of the U.N./U.S. troops in Macedonia, as a part of the (inaudible), is a testimony how highly the United States regards the security of my country. I would like to express the highest respect and gratitude of the Macedonian people to the United Nations, to the U.S. nation, and to the U.S. administration for this sincere contribution for the maintenance of the peace and stability in the region.
And let me, of course, thank to Secretary Cohen that he found the time to receive us today, and that he make it possible for us to discuss such significant issues. One of the issues is the issue, you put it, our bilateral relations, which our going forward by day, and especially to discuss some of the original issues, such as policy assessment of the Balkan situation, Macedonian vision of its role in the new Europe Atlantic security structure, the NATO enlargement and enhanced PFP, and, of course, your question, the most actual one, the extension of the (inaudible) mission in the Republic of Macedonia after the 31st of May.
Q: Should it be extended?
A: So our position is that there are a dozen of variable reasons why we, as a domestic country, will ask the United Nations, the Security Council, to extend the mission after the 31st of May.
Q: Thank you.