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Officials from several Black Sea nations met with military leaders at U.S. European Command headquarters Friday as part of an annual defense brain trust tour.

They discussed their region, America’s role there and the weave of treaties and security agreements the United States maintains with countries whose coasts are lapped by the Black Sea.

The program — sponsored by Harvard University and paid for by the Carnegie Foundation and the Defense Department — brought together some 30 generals, diplomats, intelligence experts and scholars from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bulgaria, Georgia, Greece, Moldova, Romania, Turkey and Ukraine.

Despite tensions in the region, participants in the annual Black Sea Security Program typically don’t hash out their differences right then and there, though officials admit regional conflicts do tweak perspectives. Nonetheless, the sessions tend to be more an academic series of briefings than debates.

“This isn’t the forum where anyone is going to air any dirty laundry,” said Air Force Capt. Sarah Kerwin, spokeswoman for the U.S. headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

The program visited the headquarters for the first time last year.

“Obviously it went well, because they’re here again,” Kerwin said.

According to Harvard, the group visited Bulgaria’s capital of Sofia earlier in the week and was to fly to Washington, D.C., on Saturday. There, they will speak with security specialists from the Pentagon, Congress and the National Security Council.

In Stuttgart, the entourage listened to briefings on just what the European Command is and does. Some tend toward astonishment at the sorts of programs in which the United States is engaged in their countries, such as humanitarian demining.

“They are not necessarily the same individuals we have regular contact with,” said Army Lt. Col. Rosemarie Warner, the headquarters’ branch chief for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia. “Oftentimes, the programs even come as a surprise to them.”

Relations between the Black Sea players and the United States have been boosted by a heavy American effort to develop and modernize the militaries there since the Berlin Wall fell.

“We have a good relationship with all of these countries,” Warner said, “and I think they see EUCOM as a major player in the region and a representative of the United States.”

The tweedy university feel of the program doesn’t preclude politics entirely.

“We try to be very clear about the types of activities that we do in the region and in our overall focus we have a couple of things that are primary, and one of them is the war on terror,” Warner said. “We’re trying to get everyone in the region together to have the same focus.”

The other big issue is the broad topic of security cooperation among the Black Sea neighbors and the United States. The American headquarters would prefer that all the players plug into the same sort of security cooperation framework. The Harvard visit could help, U.S. officials hope.

“It encourages open dialog where they can talk to one another,” said Navy Cmdr. Denise Newell, EUCOM’s Russia desk officer.

Cooperation can take work in the ancient neighborhood: Armenia and Azerbaijan still are trying to stitch the wounds of an ethnically charged territorial war during the 1990s. Moldova grapples with separatists in Transnistria. The new Georgian government faces tension with Russia over semi-autonomous regions with strong ties to Moscow. Turkey and Greece long have stared at one another across the Aegean, both distrustful of the other over the final status of disputed Cyprus.

Warner said these broilers affect participants’ views but are largely shelved for the sake of exchange.

“For the most part, it’s a very jovial, congenial group of folks.”


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