Kosovo Status TalksAmbassador Frank G. Wisner, U.S. Special Representative for Kosovo Status Talks
Interview with Maja Drucker, Voice of America Serbian Service
June 23, 2006
Maja Drucker: Thank you, Mr. Ambassador, for taking time to talk to us and our audience.
My first question would be that the notion that Kosovo status talks are real negotiations is being challenged by some analysts who say that whatís happening right now is an introduction process to an imposed solution. What is your comment?
Ambassador Wisner: Thatís not the right way to look at it. Itís certainly not the negotiation the United States is supporting. We want a fair airing of views. Yes, the responsibility for settling the future of Kosovo lies with the international community under UN Security Council Resolution 1244 which the government of Serbia accepted. That said, the outcome must be as acceptable to everyone as conceivably possible. Weíre not talking about one moment in time. Weíre talking about history, how communities and how nations live side by side. So weíre seeking a degree of consensus not imposition; of acceptance, not force.
VOA: The international communityís mantra so far has been that Kosovoís solution will be the result of compromise that will be coming from both sides -- the Albanians and the Serbs. So far we have heard that everybody is being asked to accept the wishes of the majority in Kosovo which is Albanian, and Pristina has been asked to respect the rights of its minority, which is mostly Serbian. Is this a fair kind of request? On one hand asking Belgrade to accept majority which means giving a part of its territory eventually, while the Kosovo Albanians are being asked to respect the norms of any civilized society, taking care of its minority. Isnít that uneven?
Wisner: I believe you have to turn back and look at the communities that are directly involved. It is an act of faith on our part and the international community that Kosovo, the Serbian population in Kosovo has a right to live in that territory, a right to exercise its life, its professions, its faith, maintain its culture, have access to fine schooling and medical facilities. Whatever the future of Kosovo, those rights have got to be worked out. They have to be enshrined.
Whatever the future will be in terms of final status, whether Kosovo will be independent or something else, Kosovo Serbs are going to need the protections that will guarantee them their full rights. Not only the Serbs, but other communities -- there are Bosniaks and Turks and Roma and others who live in the society.
So I think itís a perfectly legitimate objective of Mr. Ahtisaari, of the international community to secure those rights. Those rights are then the building blocks of a future final status decision, one we would like to make by the end of the year, would like to make with as much airing and thought as is possible with all the parties involved. Kosovar Albanians, Kosovar Serbs, the Serbian people themselves, Belgrade, the international community. We havenít reached that stage yet. The final status, however, must be settled in everybodyís interest and this year.
VOA: Do you think in the next six months something can be achieved in terms of those standards? And it wasnít achieved during the past five years? Is that realistic?
Wisner: Letís divide this into two portions. Can progress be made on achieving the standards that the United Nations set for the evolution of Kosovar institutions in Kosovo today? And second, what are the outcomes in the negotiation?
On the first, progress has been made. Itís undeniable. There is progress on meeting standards. Is the ability to achieve a perfect state of government ever certain? I would argue not. But progress has been made. As Kai Eide, the UN expert, Norwegian expert argued, some progress has been made, but more can be made once final status is settled. Thereís a new government in Kosovo the last three months. Prime Minister Ceku and his government. Theyíve been busy and diligent and have created a very positive impression with the United Nations as was recently testified to before the UN just two days ago.
Progress on standards is being made. Is the situation perfect? No. Is there more to be done? Most assuredly. Is the international community arguing in a determined manner to improve conditions of life in Kosovo? Yes. But letís be realistic. There are many limitations. Some of the authorities are still confused. The UN holds several. The Kosovar institutions hold several. That ambiguityís not [inaudible].
Thereís also a lack of resources. The Kosovar entity does not exist as an independent entity where it can borrow money from abroad, invest in infrastructure, so there are constraints. Kosovo needs to move to final status. Thereís got to be a settlement.
VOA: Why rush? Why does it have to happen by the end of this year?
Wisner: I believe it should happen by the end of this year for everybodyís best interests. I can assure you the conditions of the negotiation will not change if it lasts another month or two or three months or six months or even another year. The positions of the parties are unlikely to be remarkably different. The Serbian side has one point of view, the Albanians another.
But what is held back is an acceptance of normal life. Albanian Kosovars get on with their lives. An institution exists called a state which can borrow money, invest, begin to take real responsibility. Kosovar Serbs and other minorities will know what kind of schools theyíre going to, what churches theyíll pray in, how they will be able to manage their economic affairs. Until final status is settled everybody is in limbo. Everybodyís uneasy. No one can make proper plans for their lives. So Iím going to argue, and I believe it very deeply, that getting the job done, settling final status by the end of the year, is in the interest of Albanian Kosovars, Serb Kosovars, the entire region and the stability of the Balkans.
VOA: What about the stability of Serbia? By pushing the timetable maybe all these needs will be met which youíve just mentioned. Democratic forces in Belgrade are facing very tough times. Montenegro referendum took place in a fantastic, civilized manner and Serbs accepted that with dignity as Montenegrins. Kosovo, however, is not the same as Montenegro. Kosovo is perceived by the Serbs to be an internal, integral part of their territory, of their history, of their identity.
So if we do all these things fast at the end of the year to make sure everybody is happy in Kosovo, what about making people happy in Serbia? What about political turmoil in Serbia and on its domestic political scene?
Wisner: I think thatís a fair remark, I respect it, and I am highly sensitive to it. We must be concerned about the future of Serbia. That issue sits front and center on my mind and on the mind of any responsible policymaker in Washington. We have a long history of friendship with Serbia. We have long recognized as a nation going back to the early part of this last century.--the time of Woodrow Wilson through World War II, through the Cold War-- that the key to stability, progress in the Balkans is Serbia.
We are highly sensitive to the fact that this country, the United States, is peopled with so many people of Serbian origin. Theyíve made such a terrific contribution to our national life.
Now those thoughts can tell us as we look ahead, we have a view of the future of Serbia, part of the Western family, part of Western security institutions including NATO, part of the Western economic family, particularly a member of the European community where Serbians like others in Europe can achieve their full potential, promise for their children, promise for their grandchildren. Thatís our vision. We want to be Serbiaís partner in achieving that vision.
For that vision to be achieved it is vitally important to settle the disputes of the past. There have been wars that have raged through the former Yugoslavia. Serbia has shown huge capacity to settle those wars, with Slovenia, with Croatia, with Bosnia, with Macedonia, and now the challenge is to settle with Montenegro, thatís being done, and to settle with Kosovo.
I respect the maturity, the judgment, and the sense of self-interest of Serbians. I believe the Serb people can move ahead and grasp the [metal] and take their nation forward for their own better living future, and as they do so theyíll have friends in the United States.
VOA: I might sound a bit redundant, but Iím going to take the chance. Serbia has made progress in the last six years, Iím sure you would agree. Maybe not fantastic progress. There is still the Hague hanging as an open issue, but they have made quite a bit of progress, and some people in Serbia say that granting Kosovo independence, America is now punishing us for the misdeeds of Milosevicís regime. Is that so?
Wisner: I donít believe thatís so. I do hold Milosevic responsible for driving a wedge between Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. The cruelties of his regime brought the situation to a boil and we can never go back. We can never cool that passion down, not in our lifetimes, not in this generation, not in generations to come. Thatís something thatís happened.
Itís time, though, I would argue, to move on. To go beyond that ugly stain on historyís page of Milosevic, and together for Serbs and Americans and Europeans to forge a common identity and a common interest and a common unity.
So Iíd like to think we can look to the future as opposed to look to the past.
Itís in all our interests that the western Balkans become a stable territory so these peoples can work together and in harmony with Europe. That wonít happen until final status in Kosovo is settled. That will be the last piece that will settle the old problem so we can get on with a new and better life.
VOA: Let me be blunt. Where is the carrot? Letís say Kosovo, independence, semi-independence, conditional independence, whatever it is actually happens, and indications are that everything is going in this direction. What is there for Belgrade? They are losing part of their territory.
Wisner: I have too much respect for the intelligence of Serbians. Iíve met and talked to opinion makers, political figures, and the leaders of the nation. I donít believe there are carrots around people. There is a mature assessment of national interest. What is going to be good for Serbia in the future? How will Serbian democracy survive? In isolation? In hostility? Tucked into a remote corner of Europe? Or as part of a mainstream of economic progress, free markets, free democratic institutions inside a European identity, inside even a broader Western family. Thatís the Serbia I know exists.
The way is open to get there if only we could get these problems from the past behind us. So the challenge of leaders today is to point in the right direction, and I am certain the intelligence, creativity of the Serbian people will get the nation to where it ought to be on the main street of history.
VOA: Last question. Prime Minister Kostunica and President Tadic have been invited by Secretary Rice to visit Washington. What can they expect?
Wisner: Well, thereís no greater demonstration than the respect we hold those two gentlemen and the institutions of Serbian democracy than at this time in our all very busy and complicated lives, that they would come to Washington. Theyíre going to have a very warm reception and engagement, theyíll have a chance to express their points of view, theyíll hear ours in candor. I hope we can find a way in the course of those talks to pick a path ahead, together, in partnership. Thatís certainly our intention. We want to build a strong relationship with Serbia. Having the two top leaders of the nation come here and meet with our top officials is the best way to get the ball rolling.
VOA: Thank you very much, Ambassador.