By K.P. Foley and Frank T. Csongos
The man expected to become the next U.S. secretary of state says America will not retreat from its international responsibilities under the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush. Retired Army General Colin Powell told a Senate committee considering his nomination on Wednesday the U.S. will not take the path of isolation or protectionism. But Powell said the new administration will study whether to reduce American troops in the Balkans. RFE/RL correspondents K.P. Foley and Frank T. Csongos report from Washington.
Washington, 18 January 2001 (RFE/RL) -- U.S. Secretary of State-designate Colin Powell has pledged that America will remain fully engaged around the world but said it may reduce its troops in the Balkans.
Powell told the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations committee considering his nomination on Wednesday that the U.S. will not withdraw into a fortress of protectionism or an island of isolation. His remarks appeared to be directed at some U.S. allies who are concerned that the incoming administration of President-elect George W. Bush might scale back U.S. commitments.
Powell did acknowledge that the U.S. plans to conduct a careful review of its troop commitments around the globe, with an eye toward reducing troop deployments in some regions, including the Balkans.
"As we look at the possibility of reducing our troop levels in the region (the Balkans), this will be done carefully, it will be done as part of an overall review of all of our commitments overseas, and you can be sure it will be done in the closest consultation with our allies."
At the hearing, Senator Joseph Biden (D-Delaware) urged Bush to clarify remarks made during the election campaign suggesting that a Bush administration would consider withdrawing some troops deployed with NATO peacekeepers in Bosnia and Kosovo.
"I believe it would be a serious mistake to withdraw U.S. forces from the Balkans."
Biden, a strong supporter of NATO and its involvement in the Balkans, called upon the incoming administration to keep its peacekeeping troops there as long as they are needed to prevent ethnic fighting.
"Our presence, which amounts to about 20 percent of the international force, is still the linchpin of the peacekeeping forces in both Kosovo and Bosnia and we should stay the course, in my view."
Biden said U.S. forces in the Balkans give credibility to NATO's efforts in the region.
The full U.S. Senate is expected to quickly confirm Powell, a retired U.S. Army general and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Biden, the current chairman of the committee, and other senators said that Powell's experience makes him well qualified to be secretary of state.
On Russia, Powell said relations between Washington and Moscow can be successful only if Russia pursues domestic reform.
"Our challenge in this direction is to help the Russian people come to grips with their future."
Powell said Moscow must seek a political -- not a military -- solution to the breakaway republic of Chechnya. He said the U.S. and Russia should reduce their nuclear weapons.
"Our relations with Russia must not be dictated by any fear on our part."
Turning to NATO enlargement, Powell noted that several nations -- including the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania -- have asked to join the military alliance. He said the door to expansion should be left open.
"If we believe the enlargement of NATO should continue, for example -- and we do believe that -- we should not fear that Russia will object. We will do it because it is in our interest and because freedom-loving people wish to be part of NATO."
Powell noted that NATO has forged strong ties between Europe, the United States, and Canada. He said it was encouraging that nations are lined up to join the alliance.
"We should deal with Russia's objections and find a way to address them. NATO is not aimed at Russia. NATO is aimed at the peace of Europe."
Powell also said the Bush administration intends to press on with a national missile defense system, despite Russian and Chinese opposition. But he promised that the administration will look at the "diplomatic ramifications" of the decision.
On Iran, Powell said the U.S. will explore the possibilities for better ties. He called for a greater dialogue with Tehran.
Concerning Iraq, Powell said the U.S. will try, with its allies, to "re-energize" sanctions and will support the Iraqi opposition. Powell was a key player of U.S.-led efforts to defeat Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's armed forces during the Gulf War a decade ago.
The incoming administration views on Iraq were further elaborated by White House National Security Advisor-designate Condoleeza Rice, who said Bush believes Iraqi President Saddam Hussein remains a big threat 10 years after the Gulf War.
Rice made the comments last night (Wednesday night) at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a Washington think-tank.
" Our belief is that Saddam Hussein remains a tremendous threat to the region, that there has to be pressure brought on him continuously, pressure brought on him to live up to the obligations that he undertook at the end of the Gulf War."
Rice said long-running sanctions against Iraq need to be reinforced and strengthened.