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Gates Praises Group’s Successes, Urges Closer Cooperation

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

KYIV, Ukraine, Oct. 22, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged participants at the 12th annual meeting of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial here today to focus on closer cooperation to address the challenges of proliferation, border security and counterterrorism.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates listens to a reporter's question during a press conference at the Southeast European Defense Ministerial, in Kyiv, Ukraine, Oct. 22, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by Cherie A. Thurlby

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

The 11-member SEDM alliance includes Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Greece, Italy, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia, Turkey, Ukraine and the United States.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, which like Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia had participated as observers, received full SEDM membership today with the signing of a formal accession note.

“Given its recent history, Bosnia’s transition from SEDM observer to member is all the more remarkable,” Gates said. “Our strong support for Bosnia’s SEDM membership reaffirms the United States’ long-standing commitment to integrating Southeast Europe into Euro-Atlantic institutions.”

The United States helped develop SEDM in 1996 to encourage greater regional security cooperation in the region. Although its original six members focused heavily on the Balkans, today the alliance has grown to become “truly southeastern Europe,” as it was intended, a senior defense official traveling with Gates said.

“SEDM has been very successful in achieving its objectives of encouraging or maintaining stability and security in southeastern Europe (and) of encouraging cooperation,” the official told reporters.

Gates extended praise today to the organization’s far-reaching activities, which include sending the Southeastern European Brigade headquarters last year to the Kabul Multinational Brigade in Afghanistan and supporting the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission.

Gates called the Southeastern European Brigade’s mission a contribution that “best represents SEDM’s achievements.” He also called SEDM’s efforts in Kosovo another visible element of the alliance’s commitment.

Still, Gates said, the United States doesn’t want to see the KFOR mandate expanded. The European Union has an important role to play in Kosovo, he pointed out, noting EU efforts to establish a rule-of-law mission there.

Gates urged SEDM members to continue extending the organization’s reach, but not at the expense of their own regional priorities, particularly counterproliferation, border security and counterterrorism. “To sustain and increase SEDM’s relevance, member nations must be willing to address these crucial issues,” Gates told the group.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who opened the two-day meeting this morning, joined Gates in urging greater regional cooperation focused on these issues, as well as SEDM’s peacekeeping activities.

Yushchenko told participants his government, still being formed following national elections, is now ready to play a more active role in stabilizing Europe. He also reiterated Ukraine’s interest in joining NATO.

Gates urged other SEDM nations to consider similar courses. “The United States strongly encourages SEDM to focus its efforts on activities which best support ongoing integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions such as NATO and increased cooperation and interoperability among SEDM member nations,” he told the ministers.

The secretary called efforts by countries in southeastern Europe and the Black Sea region to join SEDM “a testament to (the group’s) accomplishments and importance.” He urged SEDM members to view that growth as an opportunity “to take important steps to assure its ongoing relevance as a vital regional player.”

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Robert M. Gates

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