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Press Availability with Secretary Cohen and Minister Kitanoski, Skopje, Macedonia

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and Macedonian Minister of Defense Lazar Kitanoski
September 26, 1998

Minister Kitanoski (as translated): Ladies and Gentlemen, I spoke with Secretary Cohen about many issues, and mostly we had the same thinking, the same opinion. Primarily we discussed bilateral cooperation, which is excellent. As you know, the American government was one of the first that helped assist the Republic of Macedonia. Also, you are familiar that the political support by the U.S. government for the Republic of Macedonia is of great importance, especially having in mind the region where we are situated. You know that the presence of the American unit in the UNPREDEP was a key element that has provided stability not only in Macedonia but throughout the region. We certainly discussed the situation in Kosovo. As you know, we have similar positions there, primarily that the humanitarian catastrophe should be prevented there. But also, very soon to find a political solution to the crisis, which is going to be a sensible compromise. Obviously Kosovo should get a certain status of autonomy within the framework of Yugoslavia, no matter what name is going to be used for that autonomy. Certainly we are concerned about the situation in Albania and think that democratic rule should be taken into consideration in Albania. We assessed the Defense Ministerial as excellent, especially the signing of the agreement for the formation of the multi-national peace unit, brigade. This is really something new, happening for the first time on the Balkans and in Southeastern Europe. This is great progress in the building of confidence, trust, and cooperation between these countries that are going to contribute with units in this brigade.

Secretary Cohen: Mr. Minister you have covered literally everything we talked about except one thing. We did conclude our meeting with discussions about the homerun race between Sammy Sosa and "Big Red" McGuire! But the bulk of our time was spent discussing our bilateral relationship, which, as the Minister has indicated, is very strong. We have increased our help and assistance by some ten-fold in the last several years; our funding now is almost $12 million for the FMS funding. And we have participated also, as the Minister indicated, on a multi-lateral basis with the UNPREDEP force, with PfP exercises. And we look to Macedonia-the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia-as being a very important island of stability at a time of some turmoil in the general region. And we're available to answer your questions.

Q: Secretary Cohen, it's been two days since the NATO ministers took action. Slobodan Milosevic appears to be giving no sign of changing his action. What now?

A: (Cohen): It really is up to NATO to decide to take action. As I indicated during the course of our meetings, time was running out. And I felt that we should take action sooner rather than later in the event that Mr. Milosevic doesn't respond to the Security Council demands. Questions were raised as to whether that was an ultimatum. During the course of the meetings I indicated it was not quite an ultimatum, but a "penultimatum" that was issued by the Security Council. We'll have to wait and see whether or not the NATO countries will look to the Security Council resolution and find enough legal foundation that would warrant them joining in taking action. But there will be no unilateral action-NATO acts by consensus. And so the question will become, will NATO agree to take action in the wake of any non-response on the part of Milosevic.

Q: Is Milosevic miscalculating if he underestimates the resolve of NATO?

A: (Cohen): I think that the strong signal has been sent by the NATO ministers, as well as the Security Council. And he ought not to miscalculate, but we'll have to wait and see when that ultimatum is actually issued.

Q: How is the plan to make pressure to the Albanian side, and is it possible for this first multinational unit to be engaged in the conflict?

A: (Cohen): I think the Minister is probably in a better position to talk about Albania than I am. But I have indicated to the President [Gligorov] as well as the Minister that we believe that Albania is going to have to solve its problems from within. There has to be a political will and consensus within Albania itself, it cannot be imposed from outside.

Q: Excuse me, I talked about Albanians in Kosovo - how do you intend to make pressure to the Albanian side in Kosovo?

A: (Cohen): We would indicate, have indicated, to the UCK, or those seeking independence, that they must come to the negotiating table as well. It takes two parties to make an agreement. And in the event that they aren't willing to do so, it will be very difficult for the West, NATO, to exercise influence with Milosevic. So they must exercise restraint; they must be willing to abide by a negotiated settlement. The NATO countries do not support independence for Kosovo, and that message also has to be contained in any action taken.

Q: When could intervention in Kosovo be expected?

A: (Cohen): No one can give you a precise date. What we have indicated is, the Security Council has passed a resolution issuing a set of demands upon Mr. Milosevic. NATO defense ministers have indicated that they feel that detailed planning will go forward now and be completed as far as so-called as force generation, a force-warn-ACTWARN, rather. And those forces will be structured in a way that will be prepared to strike at Mr. Milosevic, in the event that he is not forthcoming in trying to reach a negotiated settlement and meet those demands. When that will take place still has to be decided. But I think you heard from Minister Ruehe and others that time was of the essence. And we're talking that action should be taken by Mr. Milosevic soon. And failing that, it will be up to NATO to take action. I believe that NATO's credibility is at stake, and NATO has to stand behind the words, and not just issue empty words.

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