Tuesday, October 23, 2007


KIEV, Ukraine (October 23,2007) - The U.S. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates urged participants at the 12th annual meeting of the Southeast Europe Defense Ministerial (SEDM) to focus on closer cooperation to address the challenges of proliferation and border security.

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

Bosnia, which like Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and Serbia had participated as observers, received full SEDM membership yesterday 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.Our strong support for Bosnia's SEDM membership reaffirms the United States' long-standing commitment to integrating Southeast Europe into Euro-Atlantic institutions," Gates said.

The United States helped develop SEDM in 1996 to encourage greater 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 U.S. 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 yesterday to the organization's far-reaching activities, which include supporting the Kosovo Force peacekeeping mission.Gates called SEDM's efforts in Kosovo another visible element of the alliance's commitment.

The United States doesn't want to see the KFOR mandate expanded. The European Union has an important role to play in Kosovo, Gates 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 and border security.

"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 yesterday 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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