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Barak, Cohen Discuss Middle East Peace

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

JERUSALEM, Oct. 26, 1999 – Defense Secretary William S. Cohen and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak discussed strategic issues and the Middle East peace process Oct. 26 during meetings here.

Cohen ended a 10-day trip to the Middle East with the Barak talks. Cohen visited with leaders from the Gulf States and Egypt. I told the prime minister that there is a very strong hope in the region that progress can be made in all tracks in the process, Cohen said.

Cohen said the Gulf leaders recognize the progress that has already been made in the peace process. He assured Barak that the United States remains absolute in its commitment to the security and defense of Israel.

Cohen said U.S. force posture in the region is sound and military planners do not contemplate changes. We will continue to work to deter would-be aggressors, and respond quickly and decisively if a crisis develops, Cohen said.

Some Israeli politicians were worried that the Bright Star exercises in Egypt were a sign of lessening support to Israel by the United States. But, said Cohen, Bright Star signals a new dynamic alive in the region and a new emphasis on peace. He said Barak understood that.

I talked with him about the U.S. involvement in Bright Star and what it meant for the region, Cohen said. The fact that we have so many different countries that are now training together and exercising together with the United States is a key element and can be a stabilizing aspect in itself.

Barak stressed the need for the U.S. Congress to pass the Wye Accord supplemental budget. Israel has already started spending the money. Under the Wye Accord between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the United States agreed to provide $2.8 billion to finance certain aspects of the peace process. The funding was part of the foreign aid appropriations bill the president vetoed. President Clinton remains fully committed to the Wye Accord, Cohen said.

Cohen said the funding should not be viewed as simply a humanitarian issue. Peace in the Middle East is fundamental to U.S. security interests, he said.

Barak agreed, saying that peace in the Middle East would ensure the flow of oil to Europe and Japan and help create a coalition to combat international terrorism, which he sees as the biggest threat through the next decade.

Israel is committed to peace, Barak said, but Israelis live in a pretty tough neighborhood. U.S. assistance will be essential to help the region, and Israel, find peace. We will need a security umbrella and a strategic safety net, Barak said.

Barak is due to meet with Palestinian Authority President Yassir Arafat and President Clinton in Oslo next week.

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