Robertson, Rumsfeld Discuss NATO Issues During Meeting
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Mar. 9, 2001 NATO Secretary-General George Robertson called NATO a "key tool" of the Western system and an agent of change, relevance and understanding following a March 8 meeting with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
Meeting in the Pentagon, Rumsfeld and Robertson discussed the Balkans and also the European Security and Defense Identity. Rumsfeld briefed Robertson on the ongoing top- down review of Defense Department.
Robertson said the U.S. leadership rightly values NATO. He said active U.S. participation in the alliance is "still a key to the dynamism of the organization."
Kosovo dominated talk related to the Balkans. Rumsfeld and Robertson talked about current problems in the province and the phased and conditioned release of the ground safety zone between Kosovo and Serbia. The North Atlantic Council -- NATO's ruling body -- had agreed to the shrinking of the five-kilometer zone of separation around Kosovo. NATO troops and Yugoslav army units may now enter portions of the zone. This is in answer to ethnic Albanian extremists who have used the zone for their own purposes.
Robertson said the interests of the ethnic Albanian population in Kosovo are still a NATO priority. He said their safety and security is a matter of long-term concern, but NATO must "make a key difference between the ethnic Albanian extremists who are causing mischief and trouble in the ground safety zone and in the north of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, and the vast majority of ethnic Albanians in the area who simply seek peace and stability in the long term."
Rumsfeld said he does not believe shrinking the ground safety zone is of much concern. The zone was established originally to separate NATO and Serb forces, he noted.
"Since that time, there have been a great many developments, including a different government and different attitudes, and it has not proved to be needed from that standpoint," he said. On the other hand, Rumsfeld continued, some small groups of people had been using the zone to stage attacks because it was free of Serb forces.
Robertson said he was pleased with the Bush administration's reception of the European Security and Defense Identity. He said the European Union's proposed rapid reaction force would be "umbilically connected" to NATO.
Robertson had met with members of Congress earlier in the day, and he met with President Bush following his Pentagon stop. Following the meeting, the White House announced Bush will visit NATO headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, in June.