- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2001

President-elect George W. Bush pledged yesterday that he would consider any reduction in U.S. peacekeeping troops in the Balkans only after careful review and consultation with allies in Europe.

In an interview with the Reuters news agency, Mr. Bush went out of his way to calm fears raised in Europe when his top foreign-policy aide, Condoleezza Rice, said in October that the then-Republican candidate sought a "new division of labor" for the peacekeeping missions in Kosovo and Bosnia.

"They read, 'Bush is going to pull all [U.S.] troops out of the Balkans, or Bush is this or Bush is that,' " Mr. Bush said in the interview.

Asked if he planned any pullout immediately after taking office, Mr. Bush replied, "No, I'm not."

Miss Rice, who will be Mr. Bush's national security adviser, and Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell have both tried to reinforce that message this week, saying any changes in Balkan forces will come after a careful review of the situation and extensive talks with allies about the long term.

The message appeared to be getting through.

Javier Solana, the Spaniard who is in charge of foreign policy for the European Union, said in Vienna, Austria, yesterday that he did not foresee any major changes in the level of U.S. engagement in the Balkans or in Europe in general under Mr. Bush.

"I don't think there will be dramatic changes in the policy of the United States vis-a-vis Europe," Mr. Solana told reporters in the Austrian capital. "The engagement in the Balkans I do not think will be changed."

In his Reuters interview, the former Texas governor said he was determined to reach out to foreign leaders after taking office, admitting that many had no personal knowledge of him.

"I can imagine there's a lot of anxiety about a fellow coming from Texas," Mr. Bush said. "They don't know me from Adam… . And they've been hearing all kinds of things about potential decisions that I'll be making."

The president-elect said he planned to reassure them that his administration will be "reliable and steady," that "I'm not going to let politics, internal politics, force me to abandon friendships."

The Balkans debate exploded after Miss Rice told the New York Times in October that Mr. Bush was exploring a new division of responsibilities within NATO.

She said European powers should eventually supply all the peacekeeping troops for missions like those in Kosovo and Bosnia, with the United States providing logistical, intelligence and communications support services.

At Mr. Powell's Senate confirmation hearing Wednesday, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, said he encountered widespread fears about Mr. Bush's intentions during a visit to Europe earlier this week.

"The region's leaders have taken [Mr. Bush] at his word, and, as a result, the situation there is essentially frozen," Mr. Biden told Mr. Powell.

The United States supplied most of the military firepower in the Bosnia conflict of 1995-96 and the 1999 air war with Yugoslavia over Kosovo. But troops from European nations now make up about 87 percent of the peacekeeping forces in Bosnia and Kosovo.

Daniel Serwer, a Balkans analyst with the Washington-based U.S. Institute of Peace, said the U.S. Balkans troop deployment, while small, is hugely symbolic and the "glue that holds the entire mission together."

"I think there's a clear recognition on the part of the transition team that pulling out without European concurrence would wreck NATO," Mr. Serwer said.

In the Reuters interview, Mr. Bush said he was determined to proceed with a defense system against ballistic-missile attacks, but again said he would consult closely with NATO allies and with Russia and China as he went forward.

"We're realistic people," Mr. Bush said. "People will hear me say loud and clear that this isn't an attempt to create a balance of power favorable only to the United States. This will be an attempt to create a balance of power that is favorable to peace, that recognizes the true threats in a post-Cold War era."

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