Prague, 24 July 2001 (RFE/RL) -- Addressing U.S. troops based in Kosovo at Camp Bondsteel, President George W. Bush today reiterated a pledge not to pull U.S. forces out of the Balkans unilaterally. The promise has reassured European leaders concerned about Bush's election campaign statements questioning U.S. involvement in peacekeeping.
Bush said today: "American and allied forces came into Bosnia and Kosovo. We came in together, and we will leave together. Our goal is to hasten the day when peace is self-sustaining, when local democratically elected authorities can assume full responsibility and NATO forces can go home."
But Bush also emphasized that peacekeeping should become a mainly civilian job. He said that U.S. forces should not be stationed in the Balkans indefinitely. He added, however, that much work remains to be accomplished in the Balkans in general and in Kosovo in particular.
"Civil institutions must be put in place and made stronger, organized crime must be brought under control, war criminals must be brought to justice, and Kosovo must not be a safe haven for insurgencies elsewhere."
Bush encouraged U.S. troops to help end the conflict in neighboring Macedonia, where ethnic Albanian rebels are fighting government forces.
"America has a vital interest in European stability and therefore peace in the region. That's why I've recently taken steps to cut off outside support for rebels in Macedonia. That's why we need you to keep on patrolling the border and cutting off the arms flow."
At Camp Bondsteel, President Bush, who arrived from Italy -- where he attended the summit of the Group of Seven plus Russia -- also met the heads of the civilian UN Kosovo mission and KFOR, the NATO-led peacekeeping force in the Serbian province.
During last year's election campaign, Bush expressed doubts about peacekeeping operations such as the 42,000 military personnel deployed in Kosovo from 16 NATO countries. He said that U.S. troops should intervene in overseas interethnic battles only to stop war, not to keep peace. Because such statements evoked fears in Western Europe that he might withdraw the nearly 9,000 U.S. troops in the Balkans, Bush has since repeatedly reassured America's allies that the United States will not withdraw unilaterally from the area.