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U.S., Russian Leaders Discuss KFOR Role

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

HELSINKI, Finland, June 17, 1999 – What role will Russia play in Kosovo? U.S. and Russian defense leaders focused on that question here June 16 in more than seven hours of intense talks.

At the end of what he described as a long, good day permeated by "an essence of good will," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said the American and Russian teams had made progress, but reached no agreement.

"We are in a different position today than we were yesterday," Cohen said. "We have narrowed some of the differences. There's greater clarity and understanding of what issues remain to be resolved."

The marathon meeting aimed at hammering out the details of Russia's participation in the NATO-led peace implementation mission in Kosovo was only the start of negotiations. Talks between the defense teams resumed June 17 at 11 a.m.

Secretary of State Madeleine Albright was also due to arrive in Helsinki June 17 to meet with Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov. President Clinton is scheduled to meet later in the week with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Cologne, Germany.

Cohen had traveled from Washington to the Finnish capital June 15 to meet Russian Defense Minister Marshal Igor Sergeyev. Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, instrumental in negotiating the Kosovo peace settlement, hosted the talks, which began in the presidential palace. Cohen briefed reporters on the day's meeting upon returning to his hotel at midnight.

"We had extensive discussions that covered the full range of issues that affect the Russian presence and participation in KFOR," Cohen said. "Although some [news media] are reporting an agreement has been struck, that is not the case. We have had a series of issues raised. We've examined them. We've offered options. They've offered options."

Defense officials on both sides are trying to find creative ways to resolve differences quickly, Cohen said. Although he would not detail any of the issues, the secretary said officials discussed areas of operation and command and control.

"We have indicated that a unified command and control structure is imperative," Cohen said. "We are seeking ways in which the Russians can participate effectively within that command and control structure."

The Russians have indicated they want control of a Kosovo sector, while U.S. and NATO officials have talked about a "zone of responsibility" within a sector. "This is something that could be worked out," Cohen said.

"We want to make it very clear we want them as an active partner in KFOR," he stressed. "They have indicated they are eager to participate in the peacekeeping mission, so we're just trying to find formulations that will accommodate their needs as well as maintain the strict command and control requirement."

Cohen said American and Russian officials also discussed the 200 Russian soldiers who moved into the Pristina airport ahead of the planned NATO deployment. He called the move premature, unplanned and unsynchronized and said it caused some temporary confusion. However, he noted, the Russians are not hindering NATO operations and are expected to be fully incorporated into the KFOR mission.

He said he overloaded long-distance phone lines throughout the day and evening to keep NATO colleagues abreast of the discussions. Any agreement the defense leaders might reach has to be approved by NATO, he pointed out.

"I cannot make a commitment on behalf of the NATO organization, until all the facts are laid out and there's an opportunity for all the members to participate in a formal North Atlantic Council meeting," he said.

Overall, the day was productive, Cohen said. "I was pleased with the atmosphere. It was businesslike, but quite cordial. Minister Sergeyev also indicated he was pleased with the progress that he pointed out was made in all areas of our discussion."

Even as Cohen and Sergeyev ended the day, U.S. and Russian military experts continued meeting into the morning. It was their job to work out the details needed to integrate Russia's participation in KFOR.

Following his meetings in Helsinki, Cohen is slated to travel to Brussels, Belgium, for a North Atlantic Council meeting at NATO headquarters.

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