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Cohen Visits Asia, Former Soviet Republics

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, July 26, 1999 – North Korea is making its neighbors nervous -- very nervous. Reports of an underground missile launch site near China and talk of a new missile capable of reaching America's West Coast have caused alarm here as well as in Tokyo and Seoul.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will discuss threats to stability during a week-long trip to Japan, Korea and the former Soviet republics of Ukraine and Georgia.

In Japan and Korea July 26-30, Cohen will meet with U.S. military officials and local government leaders to discuss critical security and political developments. En route to Tokyo, Cohen told reporters the region is now facing challenges caused by North Korea's missile development program and faltering relations between China and Taiwan.

Last August, North Korean officials test-fired a ballistic missile that flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific. North Korea may now be ready to test an even more advanced missile capable of reaching the U.S. West Coast. Although Cohen would not discuss intelligence matters, he said the United States, Japan and Korea want to discourage North Korea from conducting further tests.

"We have communicated and continue to communicate to North Korea, along with our South Korean and Japanese friends, that [another launch] would have serious implications . We leave it at that," Cohen said.

Considering the current tensions in the region, the secretary said, his visit is aimed at reaffirming America's strong defense and security ties to the region. About 100,000 permanently stationed American troops are divided evenly between Japan and South Korea.

In both Asian nations, Cohen will also discuss ongoing attempts to re-engage diplomatically with China. "It's in our mutual interest that we return to normal relations with China," he said. "We have indicated that we would like to see that place. We're hoping the Chinese government will be receptive."

[Diplomatic tensions erupted recently between China and Taiwan following a sudden declaration of independence by the Taiwanese government, later retracted. Cohen said the United States has no plans other than to urge the two sides to resolve their dispute peacefully.]

After his Asia stops, the secretary is slated to travel to Ukraine and Georgia for talks focusing on furthering military cooperation. The United States is helping the former Soviet republics to develop modern military forces.

U.S. assistance includes developing officers skilled in defense planning, strategy and resource management. U.S. officials are helping Ukraine, for example, revamp its military education system for both officers and NCOs.

Ukraine has contributed troops to NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia, and the former Soviet state has taken a leading role in NATO's Partnership for Peace program, a senior U.S. defense official noted. Cohen will discuss the possibility of Ukrainian contributions to the KFOR peace mission in Kosovo. Ukraine's sending troops to Kosovo would be a natural extension of its responsive, supportive role in the Partnership for Peace, the official added.

Cohen's visit to Georgia will be the first ever by a U.S. defense secretary, the official said. The United States is helping Georgia replace heavy, Soviet-style mechanized units with smaller, more mobile forces, consistent with Georgian threat perceptions and resource constraints, the official said.

The secretary's meetings with government and defense officials are expected to give greater momentum to the cooperation already achieved in U.S.-Georgian defense relations, the official said.

Cohen is scheduled to return to Washington Aug. 1.

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