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Cohen Cautious on Persian Gulf Progress


By Paul Stone

American Forces Press Service



	WASHINGTON -- Service members on duty in the Persian 

Gulf can expect to remain there -- at least for now.

	Although saying he hoped to reduce the size of the 

30,000-member force soon, Defense Secretary William S. Cohen 

said progress of the U.N. inspection process ultimately will 

determine the timetable. In the meantime, he said, forces in 

the Gulf are "doing an outstanding job" and "prepared to 

take action if that becomes necessary."

	During a wide-ranging interview with the Armed Forces 

Radio and Television Service, Cohen said the "American 

people ought to be very, very proud of their (service 

members') dedication, patriotism and professionalism that 

they demonstrate day in and day out."

	The secretary said Iraqi President Saddam Hussein is 

currently living up to his side of the agreement to allow 

U.N. weapons inspectors full and unfettered access to 

inspection sites -- for now. But as in the past, Cohen again 

stressed, that's not going to be enough.

	"He has to come forward with positive proof that he has 

in fact destroyed all of those systems that he said he once 

had," Cohen said. He was referring to Hussein's claims he 

has destroyed 50 warheads filled with the deadly nerve agent 

sarin, 25 Scud warheads, 157 bombs filled with biological 

agents, 130 tons of chemical agents and more than 15,000 

chemical weapons.

	Cohen called this a "very major element" the Iraqis 

must come forward with instead of trying to put the burden 

on the U.N. inspectors.

	In the meantime, U.S. operations in the Persian Gulf 

and Bosnia threaten to strain the military unless Congress 

approves supplemental funds to support the gulf build up.

	Calling the budget squeeze a "significant problem," 

Cohen said unless Congress responds to a request for 

additional funding by May 1, DoD will have to redirect funds 

from other accounts, including training, readiness, and 

operations and maintenance. Over time, the secretary said, 

this could affect everything from training to procurement, 

as well as hiring and potential furloughs of personnel.

	The House and Senate have approved separate, very 

different emergency military spending bills. Work on a 

compromise bill will wait until late April, when Congress 

returns from its spring recess.

	Cohen said the funding is critical to both the Persian 

Gulf operations and the Bosnia mission, which he believes 

will eventually be seen as a major success story.

	"We have seen many heavy armaments reduced or 

eliminated from that region," Cohen said. "We have seen 

about 300,000 active forces retired from duty there. We have 

seen farmers going back into the fields. We have seen houses 

being rebuilt. We have seen the economy starting to grow at 

really unprecedented rates compared to any party of the 

world in terms of their economic growth in the past two 

years."

	While President Clinton has agreed not to set a new 

date for complete withdrawal from Bosnia, Cohen said, this 

does not mean troop strength there will remain at current 

levels.

	"The forces are coming down and the mission is not 

being expanded," the secretary said. "We are, in fact, 

making good progress as far as persuading our European 

friends that we should have a specialized police unit that 

will serve as a buffer between the local police ... and the 

follow-on forces that come after SFOR so we don't have our 

armed forces conducting what are essentially police 

missions."

	Cohen said the mission will now receive regular reviews 

to determine how and the number of troops which can be 

withdrawn at any given time.

	He is equally optimistic about bringing the Czech 

Republic, Hungary and Poland into the NATO alliance, and 

said it will help spread stability and democracy through 

Central and Eastern Europe.

	"We would have strategic depth that would be obtained 

by this process," Cohen said. "We have three countries who 

will professionalize their military, who will modernize 

their military and who will integrate that with NATO 

standards."

	Cohen said their addition to NATO may help prevent 

future conflict in Europe, such as that which ultimately 

resulted in the Bosnia mission.

	"If you look at the enemy, it's no longer a Soviet 

empire, but rather instability," Cohen said. "It's the kind 

of thing we saw take place in Bosnia. ... We want to see 

that eliminated. We think NATO enlargement will help."



 

 



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