Kosovo Status TalksAmbassador Frank G. Wisner, U.S. Special Representative for Kosovo Status Talks
Interview with Arben Xhixho, Voice of America Albanian Service
June 23, 2006
Arben Xhixho: Mr. Ambassador, it has been reported that the negotiations for the status were to start next month. What format will they follow?
Ambassador Wisner: The negotiation has been ongoing now for some months. The issues addressed so far are the building blocks of the future. What municipal arrangements will exist to give minorities in Kosovo Ė the Kosovo of the future Ė protection? What protection will exist for churches? What economic framework will a Kosovar entity deal with? Those are all part of dealing with the eventual structure.
Now in the month ahead, the details have not been worked out. I know that it is President Ahtisaariís intention to press ahead in getting agreement as fully as possible on these building blocks, the ones Iíve just mentioned. Then to try to bring leadership on the two sides Ė on the Serbian side, on the Kosovo side together Ė to see if a measure of consensus can be reached, and then head on towards those decisions that you mentioned, related to final status.
VOA: As we know, both parts are requesting things about [inaudible], diametrically opposite one another. One asks for independence, Kosovo, and the other wants Kosovo to remain part of Serbia.
The international community has been pressing both sides to show some flexibility. For months now you have met with both sides. Do you think there is room, or what kind of room is there for compromise?
Wisner: I donít want to wrestle with your contention, but to this point, as I explained in the negotiation, Mr. Ahtisaari has been working with the component parts. And yes, there are differences. But also, I would argue, there are measures of agreement on a number of important aspects of the municipal issue, on the church and cultural property issue, the parties are not widely divergent.
It is true that eventually, when you sit down and address the nature of final status, the divergence will become quite clear, with the Kosovar Albanian side looking at independence as their preferred option; and the Serbian side anything else but.
We havenít reached that point yet. That point, when final status is going to be addressed, will come later in the year. But we are determined as an international community, as the United States, to settle this matter of Kosovo this year, during 2006.
VOA: We are six months into this year, only six months left for the most contentious issue, the final status of Kosovo. Both sides so far they havenít moved an inch from their positions. Is the international community prepared for Plan B? Is there a Plan B?
Wisner: There is no Plan B. Plan A is to get agreement on whatever the outcome we will have a stable, functioning society with appropriate protections of minorities and a structure of acceptance inside the international community for a future security force, almost certainly NATO, a future civilian presence. These issues are going to be the component parts of final status. The international community has shown complete unity, Mr. Ahtisaari is headed in that direction. Weíre all determined to try to reach our objective.
VOA: So far we have heard a lot of talks about independence, but independence itself may take various forms. Is it fair to say that independence minus sovereignty might be called a concession that the Albanian side is making toward a final status?
Wisner: I think youíve noticed so far in the course of our interview, Iíve talked about final status without addressing the exact form final status will be taking. That issue is not a public matter on behalf of the Contact Group at this point. I have a point of view of my own. It doesnít really matter.
The issue today is to put in place the structure of a Kosovo that will be stable, will be part of a stable western Balkans, will provide the basis of a functioning society that can evolve into a full partner in a greater European and Western community.
Youíre focusing on one question, independence, independence. Fine. I can understand that. Let me tell you, thereís a lot more at stake than simply answering the independence word. It is the future and survival of this state and itís part of a European entity.
VOA: You mentioned [inaudible] asked continuously to put in place strong security guarantees for the minority, for the Serbian minority in particular. What is your assessment of the Serbian community situation in Kosovo now?
Wisner: I think there is much divided opinion inside the Serbia community in Kosovo. Of those Iíve met, there are some who wish to return to the functioning of government, be able to cooperate with the institutions in Pristina. There are those who would prefer to stay out. My own view, the view of the United States, is that Serbians ought to be free of anybodyís intimidation or outside pressure or point of view, whether itís from Belgrade or from fellow citizens, to do exactly what their conscience and their interests indicate. They should be free to participate if they want to, and if they donít, they donít have to.
VOA: The international community has not been able to integrate the northern part of Mitrovica, the Serbian population there with the rest of the territory. How will this develop in the future? Are we going to see a Republika Srpska kind of in the path? Are we going to see a division or integration?
Wisner: I will only assert a principle, and itís extremely important. That is there is complete identity of view in the entire international community that Kosovo will not be sliced into pieces. Kosovo will not be cut up and any portion of it alienated. Kosovo must maintain its unity. Thereís no give on that. There will be no give on it.
Now what are the technical ways in which you integrate communities? Those are issues weíre going to have to address as this negotiation advances. The situation north of Mitrovica is anonymous. North Mitrovica is part of Kosovo. But working out ways in which the citizens in that area feel comfortable and cooperate with Pristinaís institutions is a critically important matter.
At the moment the writ of UNMIK runs over the entire country and once a final status has been settled the governing arrangements will also extend over the entire country.
VOA: Ambassador, thank you very much.
Wisner: Itís a great pleasure to be with you.
VOA: As it was mine. Thank you.