Powell to reassure NATO over Balkans
BUDAPEST, Hungary -- Security in the Balkans, defence and Iraq are all expected to be high on the agenda at a gathering of NATO foreign ministers.
U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is under pressure to reassure NATO members of Washington's commitment to peacekeeping duties in the Balkans.
He is also expected to discuss the U.S. plans for the National Missile Defence (NMD) system which faces objections from some European allies and Russia.
"I'll try to reassure them that there isn't a big split in the administration (on whether to remain in the Balkans)," Powell said in advance of Tuesday's meetings in Budapest.
Powell's comments followed suggestions by Defence Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld that the U.S. was ready to pull out of Bosnia.
Powell says Rumsfeld's comments may have been misinterpreted.
The regular six-monthly military review of NATO commitments in the Balkans has just been completed.
While it is believed the conclusion is that force levels in Kosovo are just about right, NATO's military commanders are expected to call for a "modest" reduction in Bosnia, probably by between 10 and 15 percent.
Rumsfeld's remarks earlier this month throwing doubt on the U.S. commitment in Bosnia "were not received with delight in Europe," a senior NATO official told the Associated Press.
Rumsfeld, who is conducting an overall defence review, said he wanted to cut the number of missions U.S. forces are carrying out abroad.
Powell said Rumsfeld "has been told by the president to try to get our force levels down around the world" and the defence secretary's public comments only reflect that assignment.
"But Mr. Rumsfeld and I and the president have all said we are not going to bail out of our commitments (in Bosnia and Kosovo)," Powell said.
Also high on the agenda will be President George W. Bush's proposed $60 billion NMD programme.
On Monday Bush said he intended to offer a mix of arms purchases and military aid to Russia and other European allies in exchange for reduced resistance to his plans for a missile defence system.
The strategy will also seek to gather support for the shelving of the 1972 Antiballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty, officials said, a move needed to deploy such a missile defence system.
Administration officials told CNN the White House was prepared to purchase from Russia "components, sub-components and systems" suitable for missile defence.
These include some Russian-made S-300 surface-to-air missiles while Moscow will be offered a broad range of other incentives, including joint missile-defence training.
The overall missile defence subject is "of very high interest" to NATO allies "and for us," Powell said.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov will attend some of the NATO sessions and was expected to meet with Powell to discuss the latest developments.
Also expected to be discussed was the U.N. humanitarian "oil-for-food" programme to Iraq that expires on June 3.
That programme, which regulates oil sales from and goods going to Baghdad, was meant to ease the impact of sanctions, imposed when Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990.
The oil-for-food plan requires proceeds from Iraqi oil sales to be put in a U.N. fund out of which suppliers for goods imported to Iraq are paid.
The U.S. and Britain want to keep the fund intact, thereby denying Baghdad free use of its monies.
Iraqi officials, who oppose any resolution that perpetuates the sanctions, have threatened to cut off oil supplies if the measures are approved.
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