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Cohen Thanks Turks, Confers on Iraq, Regional Stability

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

ANKARA, Turkey, July 16, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen thanked Turkey July 15 for its support of NATO's Balkan activities and met here with leaders to discuss Iraq and regional stability.

Turkey is "a reliable ally and a strong contributor to European security," Cohen said at a press conference after meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Sabahattin Cakmakoglu. Appearing with Cohen, the Turkish defense leader said both nations share common concerns about regional and European security issues.

NATO aircraft flew from three Turkish bases during Operation Allied Force, and 11 Turkish F-16s to took part in the air campaign. About 1,000 Turkish soldiers are now on peacekeeping duty with the KFOR in the German sector of Kosovo. A Turkish brigade also serves with the peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, Cohen noted.

Cohen said his meetings with local defense officials centered on Turkey's "broadening regional engagement." This included promoting the Middle East peace process, advancing stability in the Caucasus area to the northwest and Turkey's playing a constructive role in the development of Central Asia's newly independent states. They also talked about continuing efforts to deal with the threat posed by Iraq's Saddam Hussein.

Cohen said both nations agree that an unrestrained Hussein would threaten the region again. The secretary told Turkish leaders the United States remains determined to help contain the Iraqi dictator.

U.S. and allied pilots continue to enforce no-fly zones overnorthern and southern Iraq; patrols over the north originate from Incirlik Air Base, in southcentral Turkey. Cohen assured the Turks that both zones will be enforced as long as Hussein refuses to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions.

Cohen's visit to Turkey's capital came a day after he visited Greece. His visit stirred media discussion of the continuing Turkish-Greek dispute over Cyprus.

[The two nations agreed not to absorb or divide the Mediterranean island in the 1960s. After the ethnic Greek Cypriot majority voted to unite with Greece in 1974, however, Turkey occupied and partitioned the northern half of the island in response to appeals from Turkish Cypriots.]

"Contrary to press accounts, we did not come here to exert any pressure on Turkey any more than we sought to exert pressure on Greece," Cohen told reporters. "We believe dialogue should exist between both NATO members without pressure coming from the United States or any other third party."

Greek and Turkish Cypriots need to meet and be "direct and forward" with each other, Cohen said. "We believe the status quo is not acceptable and that negotiations should be instituted quickly without preconditions."

Cohen's visit to Ankara was the last leg of a seven-day trip to Europe. He departed Turkey July 15 for Washington.

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