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Press Briefing at Tuzla AB, Bosnia with Secretary Cohen and General Clark

Presenters: Secretary of Defense William S. Cohen and General Wesley Clark
July 14, 1999

Press Briefing at Tuzla AB, Bosnia

Secretary Cohen: I want to take this opportunity to say how impressed I am and have been with the operation here. We just had an extensive briefing conducted by Major General Burns, it showed that this is a major success story. Over the past three and half years we have seen a situation turn from fear into one of hope, we have seen farmers return to their fields, we have seen children go back to schools, we have seen factory workers now resume their jobs as opposed to being on the front lines. So this is truly a success story.

I want to take this occasion to meet with our soldiers, some airman who are here as well and to express my thanks to all who participate in this sector, helping to bring peace to Bosnia.

Secretary Cohen: I want to praise my interpreter for having an audiographic memory.

Secretary Cohen: Let me entertain a few of your questions.

Q: Is the Summit going to be in Sarajevo?

Secretary Cohen: I'm not in the position to comment now in terms of where the summit will be. I don't have an answer for you..

Q: The [ethnic Albanians] returns are happening in Kosovo, but apparently a lot of people [Serbs] are moving out, what is your comment on that?

Secretary Cohen: Well it's important for all who have committed to maintaining or helping to maintain peace and stability in Bosnia to keep those commitments. We should not see a reduction in the commitment to Bosnia in order to satisfy the obligations in Kosovo. Each nation should be required to fulfill its total commitment and not have a reduction in one country in order to go into Kosovo.

Q: Secretary Cohen can you comment on the prospects and also Gen. Clark as well, prospects for the drawdown of NATO troops in the coming months. And also, what are the prospects for speeding up the deployment of troops to Kosovo over the next month or so?

Secretary Cohen: With respect to the reduction in forces in Bosnia in the future, much will depend upon the assessment as to the security situation on the ground, to the extent that progress continues to be made. And great progress has been made that will allow for an assessment that would permit a reduction in the amount of forces who are here. But that will have to await a periodic assessments and reassessments that are conducted , before such a determination is made. Gen. Clark and Maj. Gen. Burns would perhaps be in a better position to give you some indications as to what the likelihood of that is, but I would say if progress continues to be made at the current pace, we can look forward to seeing some reductions in the future.

Gen. Clark: Secretary I agree completely with your assessment, I think we're seeing a success story here, I think the results are very positive, NATO has a number of plans that its considering and we'll have to wait and continue to assess over the summer months. And we'll find decisions made on these plans, but its looking very promising right now.

Q: Can you give us any idea of the size of the reductions you're contemplating at this point, assuming things continue to go well.

Gen. Clark: There are several different schemes on what the reduction could be, that we're looking at, and so I don't think it is appropriate to start dealing with numbers at this time. But we are very, very pleased to see the courage of the people here, in going home and setting the conditions which will promote stability in their country.

Staff: We only have time for one more question please.

Q: If I could just reverse Jamie's question and ask, perhaps Gen. Burns or Gen. Clark, is there a risk of drawing down too soon, of there being a flare up, is that really the essential question you're looking at, and how do you assess that risk.

Secretary Cohen: I will just answer quickly on that and yield to Gen. Clark or Maj. Gen. Burns. There has to be a calibration involved, in terms of assessing how much we need in the way of size and presence, compared to the level of risk. And to the extent that the size [and the presence is reduced too rapidly, it would follow] logically and practically that the risk factor would go up, and that is precisely the reason why we have the assessments that are conducted on a periodic basis--to make as professional a judgment as possible in terms of evaluating the progress on the ground and assessment of the situation from a security point of view and then a determination or decision as to what level of force reduction would resolve in an acceptable risk factor.

Gen. Clark: I would just want to add the idea that we have a process that looks at certain bench marks, certain areas of progress across the board, it is not just a matter of risk, but we are also looking for progress and we're measuring what the military force can do and the risk to the progress and military force, it's a combination factor that we will be looking at.

Gen. Clark: Thank you very much for coming today

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