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Cohen, Regional Defense Ministers Meet in Brazil

By Linda D. Kozaryn
American Forces Press Service

MANAUS, Brazil, Oct. 17, 2000 – Defense ministers from throughout the Western Hemisphere gathered here in the Amazon rain forest in mid-October for the fourth Defense Ministerial of the Americas.

"This is a great opportunity to discuss issues that affect the entire region," Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said Oct. 16 en route to South America.

Arriving in Manaus, Cohen joined counterparts from Canada, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. The defense officials' agenda included discussions on environmental concerns, natural disasters, information sharing, strengthening mutual trust and confidence and other regional issues.

While narcotics trafficking would certainly be discussed, Cohen said, he did not expect it to be the focus of the meetings. The United States supports regional counterdrug operations by providing military training for local law enforcers as well as helicopters and other equipment to aid the war on drugs.

Initiated by former U.S. Defense Secretary William J. Perry, the DMA, as the conference is known, has firmly taken hold, according to senior DoD officials traveling with Cohen. The defense leaders first met in 1995 in Williamsburg, Va. A year later, they met in Bariloche, Argentina. Then in 1998, they met in Cartagena, Colombia. The DMA is now slated to be held every two years.

Perry's vision for the event was to unite the hemisphere's defense ministers to promote democracy, create open markets and maintain stability. Many who attended the Williamsburg event met their counterparts from other nations for the first time.

Since then, the DMA has continued to encourage regional cooperation, and, according to Cohen, there has been "a great transformation throughout the region."

"There is a greater level of cooperation (and) a much greater level of transparency with countries undertaking the publication of white papers. There is more in the way of coordination of some of the training missions they have together. We've seen resolution of border disputes between Ecuador and Peru and between Argentina and Chile.

Brazil, in particular, has developed better relations with its neighbors, he added. The fact Brazil is host of the DMA is significant because, Cohen noted, "Brazil now has for the first time a minister of defense. On past trips I had to visit with each of the heads of the military."

While in Manaus, Cohen's schedule included bilateral meetings with Argentine Defense Minister Ricardo Lopez Murphy and Chilean Defense Minister Mario Fernando Baeza. He was also slated to update Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and Defense Minister Geraldo Magela de Cruz Quintao on the Middle East crisis.

Cohen had originally planned to spend three days at the ministerial, followed by visits to Brasilia, Brazil; Buenos Aires, Argentina; and Santiago, Chile. He cut the trip short due to the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. After delivering opening remarks at the DMA Oct. 17, the secretary is scheduled to return home to attend an Oct. 18 memorial service in Norfolk, Va., for the sailors killed in the bombing.

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Remarks as Prepared for Delivery by Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen at the Defense Ministerial of the Americas IV, Opening Plenary Session, Manaus, Brazil, Oct. 17, 2000.

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