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Current Policy Towards Russia, Serbia, and Kosovo

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs
Interview With Ivana Kuhar, VOA Eurasia Division
Washington, DC
January 16, 2007

VOA: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much for taking part in our program.

Is it possible to spell what are the U.S. priorities in 2007 for Europe?

Assistant Secretary Fried discusses current policy towards Russia, Serbia, and Kosovo in an interview with Ivana Kuhar of VOA's Eurasian Service.  State Dept. photoAssistant Secretary Fried: We don't look at Europe as really the object of our foreign policy. We look at Europe as a partner with us in the world in our common efforts to solve problems, advance freedom, provide for greater security. So I look at the world in terms of what the United States and Europe do together. We have tremendous tasks in Afghanistan, in the Middle East, toward Iran, toward the Israeli-Palestinian issues, as well as what we call the frontiers of freedom in Europe, or on Europe's periphery - the Balkans, South Caucasus, Ukraine - where we and Europe share a common interest in advancing security and freedom.

VOA: Just mentioning that, next Sunday there are general elections in Serbia. What would the United States like to see?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We would like to see a Serbia that chooses Europe, that chooses a European future for itself. Serbia deserves this. The Serbian people deserve a future in Europe no less than any other people in Europe. I hope that the Serbs choose this good future.

VOA: The status of Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari is supposed to put out a proposal probably early February - that's the common wisdom - that it will most likely include some kind of conditional independence. Do you have any indications, Mr. Secretary, in case the Serbs don't agree to a proposal that the Russians might veto a resolution?

Assistant Secretary Fried: There's going to be a very intense period of diplomatic effort ahead. Following the Serbian elections I understand that President Ahtisaari intends to present his proposal to the two sides; then there will be a period of consultations and discussions, and we will see. But the fact is we can't go backwards to where we were before 1999. We really can't stay where we are because it's been almost eight years and the Kosovars and the Serbs both deserve to see this issue resolved so they can get on with their lives and have a future. So we've got to go forward, and we've got to do so in a way that provides, we hope, for stability in the whole region. And also gives Serbia a European future.

VOA: Do you think all the parties in the conflict, if you want, are on the same page in terms of it is really necessary to move forward?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Oh, I don't know. There are some parties who speak the demagogic language of nationalism. And I have said before that I think nationalism in that part of the world is like cheap alcohol. First it makes you drunk, then it makes you blind, then it kills you.

I have always thought that nationalism was very dangerous, and there are those who play with it, but I also think there are those serious people in Belgrade and Pristina who understand that nationalist agendas have no future. Whatever the future for Kosovo, there must be a multi-ethnic element. The Serbian historical presence and the Serbian historical character through the monasteries and through the Serb communities must be preserved. Must be preserved. At the same time we need to recognize that 90 percent of the country is ethnic Albanian and they were seriously repressed at the hands of Milosevic.

I'm sorry, speaking personally, I'm sorry that Yugoslavia dissolved in such bloodshed. It had its faults, but it was one solution to the problem of how the peoples of that part of the world can live together. But it didn't die of natural causes; it was murdered, and it was murdered by Milosevic. Not only by him, but principally by him. I'm sorry that happened, but the fact is it's done and we must move on.

VOA: Especially the Kosovo Albanians, they seem to be afraid that the upcoming what we call negotiations after the proposal, might go on forever, might drag on unacceptably long. Is there a mechanism to say this is now enough? And who is supposed to say that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, we support Ahtisaari. He has a mandate from the United Nations Security Council to conduct these talks. It's good that he will consult with the parties. But you're absolutely right, they can't go on forever and at some point Ahtisaari will have to say look, I've done what I could, these are my proposals, these are my recommendations. We will support him.

VOA: What happens then if there is no solution?

Assistant Secretary Fried: There needs to be a solution. There is no such thing as no solution. The status quo is unacceptable. We need to move on from it and there needs to be a solution that recognizes the rights of all the peoples there.

It's not for me to start talking about that solution. Let Ahtisaari make his proposals, let all the parties start thinking realistically and not in terms of nationalist slogans or sound bytes, and Serbia, since you asked about Serbia, Serbia needs a future with Europe. And it needs to give up the nationalist slogans that have done so much damage to that country in the past 10 and 15 years.

VOA: Do you see the possible resolution of the Kosovo situation spilling over to Bosnia, namely a Republika Srpska government or officials have quite often been quite vocal about the right that the Republika Srpska would have to hold its own referendum?

Assistant Secretary Fried: There are those in Bosnia who believe that the entity should be abolished, that Republika Srpska should be eliminated. There are some radicals, I suppose, who believe it should break apart. But we believe that the basic constitutional arrangements that ended the war should be respected. There should be constitutional changes to make Bosnia a stronger state. But we have never argued for the abolition of Republika Srpska. We argue for a more functional Bosnian state and a Bosnian state moving to Europe. That's why NATO, with American support, extended an invitation to Bosnia and Montenegro and Serbia to join the Partnership for Peace. All of them. I'm glad we did.

VOA: That was quite unexpected, though.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, there was a debate. Honestly, we debated long and hard within our own government. There were reasons to delay, there were reasons to go ahead. But Secretary Rice made the decision to go ahead and extend the invitation to Serbia on the grounds that Serbia deserved this, they deserve a future in Europe. That was the right decision. I'm glad she made the decision. Now Serbia can see clearly that it has a European future.

VOA: Would you say there would be an incentive for Serbia in case, towards European intervention or towards faster European integration in case that Serbia goes along with the proposal in Kosovo?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well look, first of all nobody is going to try to bribe Serbia. That's not the way I would put it. Secondly, the United States doesn't make decisions for the European Union. But I would say this. Every European I have spoken to - and I was in Europe last week at a meeting with the European Union leaders - every European knows that Serbia deserves a place in Europe. Every European leader that I've spoken to knows that Serbia deserves a stronger relationship with the European Union. That's important. I think Serbs are beginning to understand that they have serious supporters in Europe.

VOA: Mr. Secretary, if I may ask you a question on Russia, namely Defense Minister Ivanov today confirmed that Russia has sold some anti-missile equipment to Iran. What is the U.S. position on that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, we've heard the story and it's very regrettable. Iran is in defiance of Security Council resolutions. Iran is pursuing a dangerous nuclear weapons program, and this is hardly the time for business as usual with Iran, so I regret what the Russians have done. I don't think it serves anyone's security. I don't think it's even ultimately good for Russian security, but that's not for me to say. I don't think it's good for world security to arm Iran at this point.

VOA: Some analysts say we're not really on the same page with Russia regarding Iran. Are we?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Russian strategic thinkers do understand that it is not in their country's interest for Iran to have nuclear arms. They understand this clearly. But there seems - I hope that Russia, given this understanding, is going to be a consistent supporter of the right kind of measures to convince Iran to change its course. I certainly hope so.

VOA: Mr. Secretary, there has been a lot of talk about roll-back of democracy in Russia, and there has also been quite loud criticism that Western countries, the U.S. included, is not doing enough, is not sending a strong enough message to President Putin. How do you answer that?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Secretary Rice and President Bush have repeatedly expressed their concern over problems of democratic development in Russia. Rice says so on a regular basis. She doesn't do so in a way that's profligate, but there is no question as to the depth of our concern.

We support democracy in Russia; we've made that very clear. We've also made it clear that a strong Russia means a strong democratic Russia, not a strong autocracy. We hope that Russia doesn't become an autocracy.

The fact is that any American administration is going to look at Russian democracy as one of the key indicators of how our relations are going. The time when we simply looked at Russian external behavior and not at its internal arrangements is long gone. The United States believes that there is a relationship between a country's external behavior and its internal democratic system and its internal fidelity to the rule of law. These things are related. So Russian developments have a bearing on our relations.

VOA: Do you believe in this notion of managed democracy or sovereign democracy?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I get nervous when people put labels in front of democracy. Sovereign democracy, managed democracy, people's democracy, socialist democracy, Aryan democracy, Islamic democracy - I am not a big fan of adjectives. Managed democracy doesn't sound like democracy. Sovereign democracy strikes me as meaningless.

Russia is a sovereign country, there's no question about that. Every country has the right as a sovereign country to look after its own interests. That's not the point. The point is, is that country democratic in its internal arrangements? Does it respect the rule of law? Does it respect the rights of its citizens? These are not American prescriptions. These are the prescriptions the world has generally accepted as the measures of civilized behavior. That's where we are in the world.

VOA: I believe we have 10-15 seconds. I need to ask you a question about Ukraine and Russia. Are we doing enough to help Ukraine?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We want Ukraine to succeed in its democratic reforms after the Orange Revolution. We want to see Ukraine's economy develop. We want to see reforms deepen.

We support the government in Ukraine as it reforms. Prime Minister Yanukovych won an election. He did so fairly. We recognize him as the leader of his country with President Yushchenko. They're political rivals in some ways, but that's the way politics works. We will work with President Yushchenko, Prime Minister Yanukovych. We're doing what we can to help Ukraine, but it's up to the Ukrainians to do what they need to do. We help. We've concluded a WTO bilateral agreement, we've graduated Ukraine from Jackson-Vanik, we've designated them a market economy. We've done a lot to upgrade our relations and we'll continue to deepen our relations, but ultimately the Ukraine state is as it should be, in the hands of the Ukrainian people.

VOA: Mr. Secretary, thank you very much. I understand we are out of time. Thank you.

Assistant Secretary Fried: My pleasure, and thank you very much for the opportunity.

Released on January 17, 2007

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