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C-SPAN Interview on Kosovo

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview with Washington Journal on C-SPAN
Washington, DC
February 22, 2008

C-SPAN: We want to welcome Daniel Fried who is the Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs joining us on this Friday morning from the State Department. Thank you, sir, for being with us.

Assistant Secretary Fried: My pleasure.

C-SPAN: Let me ask you first and foremost, the situation in Belgrade yesterday, a lot of criticism towards the local and regional police for their failure to show up for nearly an hour to protect the U.S. Embassy. What happened?

Assistant Secretary Fried: What happened was that the Serbian government and police authorities failed in their basic responsibility to provide for safety and security. The American embassy was attacked by a mob, so were a number of other European embassies. The Serbian government failed to do its job. It was a bad day for our embassy but a worse day for Serbia.

C-SPAN: How could this happen with the U.S. government spending upwards of a billion dollars to protect and upgrade embassy facilities around the world?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well no embassy can be completely secure if the local government fails in its responsibility to provide protection. In fact happily, thanks to some of our security upgrades, none of our classified information or facilities were put at risk. The hard line, to use the term, held. So our security upgrades worked. But the fact is, if a host government simply abrogates its responsibility to provide protection you’ll have troubles on the perimeters of our embassy facilities, and that’s what happened in Belgrade. Our embassy, the British, the German, the Turkish, the Albanian, the Croatian embassy and I think some others were all hit.

C-SPAN: Also as we speak, the Associated Press reporting that UN police firing at about 5,000 demonstrators as they chant that “Kosovo is ours”, all of this in relationship to what happened on Sunday. Give us the background.

Assistant Secretary Fried: The background is that old Yugoslavia disintegrated in the ‘90s through a series of civil wars. It was Serbian nationalism which was principally though not wholly responsible for the disintegration.

In 1989 the Serbian strong man started a policy of repression in Kosovo. In 1999 NATO was forced to intervene to protect the Kosovo Albanian population from oppression, and the UN has administered Kosovo ever since.

This year after over a year of failed negotiations, the United States and almost all European countries decided that the time had come to recognize reality and to recognize Kosovo’s independence. That’s what happened over the weekend. Now we’re working with the new Kosovo government to get that country stood up, and that government is doing the right thing and the responsible thing to protect all of the minorities including the Serbs to write these protections into law and its constitution. So we’re working with them. The good news is with the exception of the Serb instigated violence in the north of the country, the rest of Kosovo is peaceful, and the government is doing the right thing.

C-SPAN: Secretary Fried will be joining us until the bottom of the hour, and we will get to your phone calls in just a moment. But as you, sir, wake up to the New York Times and other photographs, you may have answered part of the question, but is this just the pangs of the birth of a new nation, or could this be the start of an ethnic quagmire in that part of the world?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, this is the last act of what has been a series of ethnically based civil wars and as I said, driven principally though not exclusively by Serbian nationalist extremists, and Kosovo’s independence is, I hope, the last act in the breakup of Yugoslavia.

I think what you saw yesterday was not simply an authentic outbreak of anger, it was also the result of some incitement by Serbian government ministers who have irresponsibly and reprehensibly suggested that violence is legitimate. Yesterday Acting Secretary Nick Burns and I contacted Serbian leadership. Nick Burns spoke to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister and reminded them that they are responsible, and personally responsible for maintaining law and order with respect to foreign embassies in the capitol.

C-SPAN: We’ve been talking and reading about Russia, which has opposed the development of this new nation. Who else has been fighting this?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Russia has been the most strongly and consistently opposed. It’s a pity because Russia is not present in Kosovo. NATO is there. Russia has no more troops, they’re not helping the Kosovars. They’re sitting on the sidelines and being rather critical. Russia blocked the Security Council last summer which tried to take action on Kosovo. They’ve taken a very hard line position.

I find this unfortunate. Russia could play a very constructive role, but they’ve chosen not to do so. This is too bad.

C-SPAN: We want to show our audience a map of the new Kosovo. Again, give us some background on how the boundaries were drawn and how this ultimately came to the development of a new country on Sunday or the declaration of independence on Sunday.

Assistant Secretary Fried: The borders of Kosovo were the internal borders of the Kosovo autonomous republic within old Yugoslavia. When Yugoslavia broke up its internal borders remained intact, which was probably the wisest course. So Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, Macedonia, all have the international borders that they had as internal borders under old Yugoslavia, so that explains the exact border.

The history is complicated in the Balkans. Kosovo in the Middle Ages was part of the medieval Serbian state. Then for centuries it was part of the Ottoman Empire. In 1912 the Kingdom of Serbia picked up Kosovo again. Then they all were part of Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia fell apart. Serbia reemerged, and now Kosovo is reemerging. It’s 90 percent ethnic Albanian. The minorities are Serb, Roma or Gypsy, Bosnian, others, Turks.

Kosovo has had elections, democratic ones. It’s got a parliament, it’s got a government. It’s setting up ministries, and the United States is helping it. It’s a mostly Moslem country. It’s also very pro-Western, very pro-American, and they say their objective is to be part of Europe, and we want to see them get there.

C-SPAN: With that background, we’ll get to your phone calls. Our guest is Daniel Fried who is joining us from the State Department. He has been with the Foreign Service for the past 31 years. Among his stations over the years he’s been positioned in Belgrade. Also what was then known as Leningrad. He served as the Ambassador to Poland, now is at the State Department in his current position since 2005. A graduate of Columbia University, as we said earlier.

Albany, New York is our first caller. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning, how are you?

My question is, isn’t this area where that guy Milosevic came from?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Milosevic was the Serbian strong man and the person who was more than anybody else responsible for the bloody civil wars that tore Yugoslavia apart.

He was overthrown by the Serbian people in 2000. He was sent to the Hague, put on trial, but died before the trial could be finished. In our view, he was responsible for both bloody civil wars and in particular for the Serbian oppression, which resulted in the loss of Kosovo to Serbia.

C-SPAN: A question of the name of the country. Is it Kosovo? Is it Kosova? What are we calling it now?

Assistant Secretary Fried: When the Kosovo leadership wrote to President Bush and asked for recognition they used the word Kosovo with an O at the end. I believe that’s the final name they’ll settle on. The fact is, it’s their country, and we’ll see.

C-SPAN: A country that geographically is about the size of the state of Connecticut, home to two million residents. Approximately 10 percent is of Serbian descent.

Boston is our next caller. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning. Thanks for taking my call.

I’m curious as to what Mr. Fried would say if Texas decided to break away from the United States, and if the basis of that was the large Hispanic population that is growing in the southern part of the United States. I find the role that the United States is playing in the breakup of different countries around the world quite interesting. It seems to me what’s good for the goose is good for the gander, and I find it rather odd that we take these positions about countries that are trying to keep together and that we encourage their breakup. So I wonder what he has to say about that. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Fried: The caller is just wrong. We don’t consider that Kosovo is a precedent for any other situation in the world. As a rule, far from encouraging breakup of countries, we tend to oppose breakup of countries, and we don’t favor separatist movements. We don’t think that Kosovo is a precedent for any other separatist movement. Not in Europe, not in North America, nowhere. Nowhere. Not Texas, not Quebec, not anywhere.

The fact is, Kosovo is unique. It was the United Nations, in fact, that ended Serbia’s rule over Kosovo in 1999 under the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. The UN has administered Kosovo. That resolution looked forward to Kosovo’s final status being settled and that’s what we’ve done.

So the caller is simply wrong about the history and wrong about U.S. policy. I hate to be blunt, but that’s the fact.

C-SPAN: Is our embassy in Belgrade operational?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The building is not operational. There was damage to the consular section and other parts of the embassy. The secure facilities were not touched, which is a good thing. The Ambassador is there. The staff is there. They’re all accounted for and unharmed. They’re working from home today.

C-SPAN: There are about 70 American diplomats stationed in Belgrade. Townsend, Delaware is our next caller. Good morning.

Caller: Hi, thank you for taking my call, and God bless C-SPAN.

I have a lot of friends, actually several friends that live, one in Belgrade and others around Serbia, and she wrote me a note. She said, “What can I say? I feel deeply ashamed that embassies and shops are being trashed and burned in my town, but please be assured that this is a group of hooligans, a few hundreds of them, that broke away from the peaceful demonstrations that numbered 350,000 people or even more. It’s not Serbs doing this, it’s the hooligans, well Serbian hooligans to be precise, and they’re mostly football and soccer fans all in their 20s.

“Emotions around Kosovo proclaiming independence run high, but people are not thinking about spilling blood over it or even trashing their own town or burning embassies. Rest assured about that. It is safe, and my prediction is that all of this will be over within a few days and will settle.”

So I hope she’s right about that.

I also think, it’s odd to me, I think if the Californians wanted independence and indicated that in a referendum, and then they tried to become independent, it would be, they would be no longer a part of the U.S. and we wouldn’t like that. We wouldn’t allow that. So it’s very confusing on that point for me.

C-SPAN: Thank you. Daniel Fried?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, first, I hope your friend is right, and I suspect she is. I have Serbian friends also, and they write to me with similar sentiments. I think a lot of Serbs would like to get past Kosovo and see Serbia join Europe. That’s certainly what we want. So you've got a good friend.

Look, Kosovo is a tragic situation in many ways. The breakup of Yugoslavia was a tragedy in many ways. We didn’t want Yugoslavia to break up. The United States was committed to supporting Yugoslavia and when it broke up we were quite unhappy. We don’t believe in the breakup of countries on ethnic lines. We don’t support separatist movements.

But the fact is there comes a time when no other course is possible. The United States, after all, owes its national existence to breaking away from Britain because of what the Declaration of Independence calls a “series of abuses”.

The Serbs effectively lost the right to rule Kosovo after what they did. The massive ethnic cleansing, the killings, the forced exiles, the burning of villages, the atrocities, mass murders, mass graves. All of which are facts, all of which happened in 1999. It’s not as if the Kosovars just up and decided to leave Serbia. We can’t ignore history. If people don’t mention it, it doesn’t mean that history didn’t exist.

The Serbian government under Milosevic engaged in atrocities. They lost Kosovo when NATO was forced in 1999 to intervene. We forced the Serbian Army out of Kosovo. The United Nations Security Council ended Serbia’s rule over Kosovo. A tragedy, to be sure. A precedent, we don’t think so. But reality is that Kosovo would never be part of Serbia again. And after yesterday’s events in Belgrade it’s a little bit hard to argue that the Kosovars would be better off ruled by those people.

C-SPAN: This is a story this morning below the fold in the Chicago Tribune. The reporting of Christine Spolar who is in Pristina, the new capitol city of the new country Kosovo. “Since the Serbian province declared independence on Sunday, ethnic Serbs have gone to the streets to vent peacefully. Other protests have turned ugly and in one case, deadly.”

So again, just to be clear about this, the protesters coming from that ten percent of the Serb population in Kosovo who don’t want to be part of this new country.

Assistant Secretary Fried: A lot of the Kosovo Serbs don’t want to be part of an independent Kosovo. A lot of Kosovo Serbs will privately tell you that they want to make the most of this and feel threatened by some hardliners in their own midst and from Belgrade. I know this from personal experience. When I go to Kosovo I meet with Kosovo Serbs. I meet with them publicly, I meet with them privately. A lot of them don’t want to be involved in violent protests. Many more of them would protest peacefully as they have a right to do. We draw the line with violence. Law and order has to be observed.

Now I should add that NATO is responsible for security in Kosovo. The UN has been responsible. The European Union is sending a large police and judicial mission to Kosovo to help with law and order. The Kosovo government will not be off on its own. Kosovo’s independence will be supervised, that’s the word, supervised by the international community including the United States, and the Kosovo government has enthusiastically agreed to this.

So we have a responsibility in Kosovo. We intend to uphold our end. We want to work with the Serbs in Kosovo. They don’t have to love Kosovo independence, they don’t even have to accept Kosovo independence, but they do have to refrain from violence.

C-SPAN: The headline in the New York Post calling them “Belgrade brutes” as they torched the U.S. embassy. We’ll listen to this next caller from Indianapolis. Good morning.

Caller: I was wondering over the last few years how effective you’ve been in protecting all people of the region. You seem to ignore the fact that under the UN Security Council’s protection 200 Orthodox Christian churches have been destroyed and burned by ethnic Albanians. What are you going to do to protect what’s remaining? Again, Kosovo is the heart of the old Eastern Orthodox Church of Serbia.

Assistant Secretary Fried: You’re right. The caller is perfectly correct that in March 2004 there were riots in Kosovo and some churches were burned. That was unacceptable. NATO restored law and order. And many Kosovar Albanian demonstrators were arrested. So the caller is correct.

Since then churches have been rebuilt, homes have been rebuilt, and there are two things we’re doing to protect the Kosovo Serb community. In the first place, NATO has responsibility for protection and in some cases they have set up checkpoints. In the second place, the plan for Kosovo independence written by a UN designated envoy provides extensive, massive protections and rights for the Kosovo Serb community including the monasteries. It’s the responsibility of the international community to enforce those rights. The Kosovo Declaration of Independence explicitly endorsed this plan. And explicitly states that they will work with the international community to guarantee these rights.

So the caller has raised a very valid point. The heart of our negotiations and our planning for about two years has been to do exactly what he suggests, which is to protect the Serbian communities and the Serbian churches, not just on paper but on the ground.

C-SPAN: Michael Grunwald writes about this in the latest edition of Time Magazine, if you want to pick up a copy. The headline says, “The Kosovo test. Why only half the world welcomes a new Balkan independence day,” saying that the bipolar reaction to the Kosovo break from Serbia had a bit of a Cold War feel.

Owensboro, Kentucky is our next caller. Our guest is Daniel Fried joining us from the State Department. Good morning to you, caller.

Caller: Good morning. Thank you for taking my call.

This, I can’t remember his name, defend the United States trying to rule the world. Also you had an earlier caller that asked about what would happen if Texas tried to secede from the union. Does he remember in grade school talking about what happened with the South tried to secede from the union? Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, the United States doesn’t want to rule the world. The United States has a responsibility in the world. In Kosovo, we are working not alone, not unilaterally, but with our European allies, especially the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Italy, and others. Most European countries have already recognized Kosovo. The European Union is sending a mission to Kosovo. NATO is present in Kosovo. So this is not a unilateral U.S. deal. This is multilateral, and it is the United States and Europe acting together.

With respect to Texas and secession, the caller is of course right. We fought our civil war over the question of national unity and freedom. And we do not believe that Kosovo constitutes a precedent. The call of whether Kosovo should be independent or not was a difficult one, but frankly, it was the only right call to make. There was no way in the real world that Kosovo would ever be ruled by Serbia again. Not after 1999. Not after the Serbian Army engaged in massacres and ethnic cleansing.

So to expect the Kosovars to submit to Belgrade’s rule was wholly unrealistic, and had we tried, had we tried, we would have ended up not liberators, but our troops in Kosovo would have ended up as unwanted occupiers. Not a position I think anybody wants us to be in.

The Kosovars overwhelmingly support the United States and are pro-American and pro-Western. They want to work with us, and we want to work with them. This isn’t the ideal circumstance, but it’s the best one attainable, and this was the only choice.

C-SPAN: Our guest is the Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs. Our next call, Starksville, Mississippi. Good morning.

Caller: I can’t believe what that guy just said. Don’t you realize that we’re unwanted occupiers in Iraq? Kosovo has always been the heartland of Serbia. The United Nations had nothing to do with authorizing the 78 days of bombings, the killings of civilians, and their attacks on civilian infrastructures that the Clinton administration perpetuated on Serbia and Kosovo. NATO brought in Serbian war criminals to administer Kosovo.

C-SPAN: We’ll get a response. Thank you, caller.

Assistant Secretary Fried: I’m not sure what that means, but the fact is that NATO was forced to end the atrocities that the Serbian military was committing in Kosovo. The UN then ended Serbia’s rule over Kosovo effectively, and the UN has administered Kosovo ever since.

The people of Kosovo overwhelmingly support the United States and they welcome and their new leadership has welcomed NATO and the United Nations and the European Union being present in Kosovo. Those are facts. The Kosovars are very open in their gratitude. Our forces have been there since 1999. There have been no casualties. There have been no acts since independence. There have been no acts of violence by the Kosovo-Albanians. We are doing the right thing there, and we’re succeeding, so far.

C-SPAN: One last headline from the Globe In Mail in Canada to show you the situation outside of the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade. And we have a caller from Bledsoe County, Tennessee. Good morning.

Caller: Good morning, C-SPAN. We sure do appreciate y’all’s forum this morning.

I just wanted to speak to this issue on Kosovo and a couple of other things. This smug guest you have on there this morning seems to enjoy talking about what the facts are. I’d like to enlighten him just a moment.

The fact is that we have a State Department that’s out of control. Our President was not elected to democratize the entire world and to send minions like him who should go get a job this morning, spending billions and billions of dollars and hard-earned tax money of citizens that live in a country that can’t even pay our own bills. The State Department is wasting money that we cannot afford. We can’t even pay our own bills.

C-SPAN: Thank you. Secretary Fried?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, the President of the United States has made the decision to recognize Kosovo. That was certainly the right decision. The United States has learned that if we sit back and ignore problems they tend not to go away, but they tend to get worse.

Isolation really isn’t an option for the United States. We’re not trying to democratize the world but in Kosovo and in the Balkans we learned that ending a side which we tried to do doesn’t really work.

I actually think the American people are reluctant to get involved overseas unless we have to, but we’re also a people that is generous of spirit and capable of enormous sacrifices for good ends. I think we are patient, not impatient. I think that the American people have a sense that our power and our wealth needs to be used wisely, but also to help other people. And whether it’s the Bush administration or the Clinton administration or any other administrations before, I believe that an active U.S. foreign policy is a deep American tradition, and I think that in Kosovo we have shown ourselves true to this best tradition. Others may disagree, but I think that this is not only the right call, it’s the fact that the Clinton administration and the Bush administration have continued in very much the same way, demonstrates how bipartisan this is. And in a political season it’s good to see that there is a bipartisan foreign policy that can still be active and make tough decisions.

So it’s actually a good moment, even though it’s a tough moment, because that’s what the world is.

C-SPAN: One final note, Secretary Fried, NATO, its presence in that part of the world, will it have a larger presence, a bigger footprint?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I should add, there are about 1200-1600 American soldiers in Kosovo. That’s about ten percent of the total. Ninety percent of the NATO soldiers are not Americans, so the Europeans are pulling their weight.

NATO, yes, has been reinforced somewhat and it’s got some reserves on call. European forces are prepared to move in if necessary. So NATO is doing the right job.

C-SPAN: Daniel Fried who is joining us from the lobby of the State Department which is accounting for some of the noise as folks come to work this morning in the Foggy Bottom area of Washington, D.C.. He is the Assistant Secretary of State for Eurasian Affairs. Daniel Fried, thank you for joining us.

Assistant Secretary Fried: My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

Released on February 27, 2008

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