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U.S., Russia Continue Talks; Agreement Close

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

HELSINKI, Finland, June 18, 1999 – U.S. and Russian defense officials here agreed to work through the night and into a third day to reach an agreement on Russia's role in Kosovo.

"We are continuing to work out serious details," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen told reporters June 17. "We have made great progress and have solved a lot of outstanding issues, but we have not finalized an agreement."

Cohen arrived here June 16 to meet with Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev regarding Russia's contribution to the NATO-led peace mission in Kosovo. At midnight, seven hours after the meeting began, Cohen reported that the first day's talks had given U.S. and Russian officials a better understanding of each other's positions on various issues.

Talks resumed at the Finnish presidential palace the next morning at about 11 a.m. and again continued into the night. The Russians responded to a detailed U.S. proposal, and U.S. officials then offered their own counterproposal. A short while later, Sergeyev announced the Russian team would stay another day.

At about 11 p.m., in the late light of this northern capital's long summer days, Cohen and Sergeyev appeared side-by-side on the steps of the palace. "We are making good progress," Cohen announced, "and contrary to reports, there have been no breakdowns in our negotiations."

Earlier in the evening, some news media reported the Russians had walked out. Through an interpreter, Sergeyev said his delegation had indeed parted the table, but only for an hour and with the intention of returning to continue work. In fact, he said, there had been "some acceleration in the work" and he shared Cohen's optimism about reaching an agreement.

Both sides aimed to prepare well-coordinated proposals to give to their presidents, Sergeyev added. Pressed for details, he begged off: "Give us a chance to work overnight, and we shall satisfy all your requests and demands."

Cohen said the U.S. and Russian teams were working together to resolve differences regarding areas of operation and responsibilities. "We are dealing with very serious, substantive issues," the secretary said. "It's important that we get it right and that we deal with the details before arriving at any final judgment."

He said he hoped to resolve details and reach an agreement that would satisfy the United States, Russia and, ultimately, NATO, which has the final say. Cohen was consulting extensively with the allies throughout the day, Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon noted.

"This is not a U.S.-Russian effort," Bacon stressed. "We have done everything in the framework of the alliance. We are close."

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