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Kosovo Status Issues

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Press Roundtable
Washington, DC
February 8, 2007

Assistant Secretary Fried participates in Press Roundtable on Kosovo Status Issues.  State Dept. photoAssistant Secretary Fried: It has been a very busy week in the process of seeking a final status settlement for Kosovo. The UN Envoy, former President Ahtisaari, was in the region late last week on Friday. He presented his draft proposal, and I repeat it is a draft proposal because he has solicited input, comments, reactions, suggestions from the parties. Frank Wisner, the American negotiation on Kosovo was in Belgrade and Pristina earlier this week. The EU Troika was in Belgrade, I think leaving today.

The basic situation is well known to all of you. In our view the status quo is not sustainable. The past is gone and we must move forward in a way which promotes stability in the Balkans, a future for the people of Kosovo and a European future for Serbia.

Ahtisaari's proposal, which we support, has been presented to the parties and I am told that detailed summaries of its major provisions are available on various web sites. It is a detailed proposal, as I said. It has extremely broad and generous provisions for Kosovo, Serb and other ethnic Albanian communities. It provides for some of these guarantees in detail. It provides for a period of intense international supervision of Kosovo including a new international civilian office to supervise the implementation of the settlement. And it provides for an ongoing international military presence, KFOR presumably, to provide a safe and secure environment.

Ahtisaari's plan is the result of his conversations with the parties over the past year. It does attempt to bridge the gap on the details and there are many compromises. Neither side has attained its maximalist objectives.

We believe that Belgrade and Pristina should review the proposal carefully and engage in a serious way with the Special Envoy, with President Ahtisaari. The parties, we hope, will work constructively with him.

We hope this work can be completed soon so Kosovo can have clarity about its future. It has been close to eight years since the terrible events of the spring 1999, the ethnic cleansing, NATO's campaign, and the beginning of a period of UN supervision of Kosovo without clarity as to its status.

As I said, the status quo is not sustainable. Kosovo will not remain stable without its status being resolved. Eight years is a long time. Serbia needs to have clarity about its future as well. I personally support a European future for Serbia. I believe that nationalisms in the Balkans have brought nothing but ruin.

It's time for all of the peoples of that region to put aside the past animosities and nationalisms and embrace a future with confidence but determination.

We support Ahtisaari's plan. We believe the next few weeks can be a period of intense, hopefully fruitful discussion. We hope and believe that the international community will remain united in supporting a settlement which is fair and workable and helps all of the Balkans achieve a European future. So it's been an intense week, a good week, and the work is going to intensify.

With that I'm happy to take questions.

Question: Dubravka Savic, Vecernje Novosti. You just mentioned that you believe that the international community will be united. Right now it is not, and we all know why. The position of Russia is different. How do you expect to cope with that problem?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The Russians have been a productive and full member of the Contact Group on Kosovo since the beginning, and they remain a full and productive member.

It is true that Russia has expressed concerns about a final settlement, and it is up to the Russians to express their views. But I also believe that Russia does not want to see a crisis in the Balkans. Russia has certainly and from the beginning made clear that it wants the Serbian community in Kosovo to have its rights protected, and that protection should include provisions for the religious institutions, the monasteries and the Serb communities. Ahtisaari's plan does that.

Russia, if it wished to, would have every right to say that its efforts had yielded a serious and good result for the Serbian community.

The alternative to a united international community is a picture in the Balkans which is much worse for everyone; for the ethnic Albanians, for the ethnic Serbs, for everyone. I hope that the international community will find the will to succeed and stay together and see this process through.

Question: Mike Ignatiou for Mega TV, Greece. What I want to ask you is in case of the Serbs or the Albanians reject this plan, do you have a Plan B? And how you are going to react in case we have a new war?

Assistant Secretary Fried participates in Press Roundtable on Kosovo Status Issues.  State Dept. photoAssistant Secretary Fried: You're asking a lot of hypotheticals which it is premature to get into. I don't think there will be a new war. I think it is possible that the parties will continue to disagree about final status but agree that whatever that status is, certain rights of the Serbian and other minority community have to be protected.

I don't know what Serbia will do. I hope that whatever their position on Kosovo status, that they will engage seriously with Ahtisaari's plan and with Ahtisaari and provide comments.

The Kosovo Serbs also need to be given the opportunity to make their comments, and it is difficult to do so without Belgrade's support. It is their lives which are affected and they should have the opportunity to present their views.

There is a debate going on in Serbia that's just beginning. I have no idea how it will come out, but after a long period of denial I believe that Serbia is beginning to look realistically at the options.

Serbia deserves a European future. I am glad that NATO decided to offer Partnership for Peace for Serbia. I believe and I hope that the EU and Serbia will intensify their relations. I believe that Greece has long been a supporter of Serbia's European future, and I frankly think that is a wise policy.

We don't want Serbia to feel isolated. But the present freezes an untenable situation. We have to get past it somehow.

Question: Nenad Zafirovic, BBC Serbian Service and TV Belgrade. What Ahtisaari's plan basically offering some kind of supervised independence for Kosovo; that's what we can read between the lines. On the other hand, the President of Serbia Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica stated very clearly that no politician in Serbia will ever accept independence of Kosovo. Where do you see room for compromise? And are you afraid that the whole situation can radicalize the political environment in Serbia?

Assistant Secretary Fried: It is true what you say about the positions of President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica with respect to final status and independence. They've said they will never accept it, and I see no reason to doubt their word.

The question though is are they willing to engage on the details of the provisions which protect the Serbian community? That's important. Regardless of final status, it is important that that community be protected.

NATO didn't do what it did in 1999 to promote anyone's nationalist agenda and the Kosovar Albanians have said that they understand that a future Kosovo must be multi-ethnic and that the Serb rights must be guaranteed. It is also true that I would not expect the Serbian community to simply rely on those sorts of guarantees, that they would expect the international community to put into effect provisions to enforce, monitor and enforce these provisions.

So I hope that Serbia will work with Ahtisaari, regardless of their position on final status, to make sure that the lives of Serbs and the Serbian community and historic presence is preserved.

I don't expect and we certainly would not insist that President Tadic or Prime Minister Kostunica take a position on final status that's impossible for them, but I do hope that they work well and seriously with the international community along the lines I suggested.

Question: I am from Politika daily, Belgrade. It's nice to meet you.

Several days ago the New York Times published opinion of Timothy William Waters who says that changing the borders, reducing the partition we are undertaking could make full, fair independence possible.

Assistant Secretary Fried: You mean partition.

Question: Reducing the partition of Serbia. It's not the partition of Kosovo; it's reducing partition of Serbia. What do you think about the new terminology and is it possible to separate some parts of Kosovo and to make that plan possible?

Assistant Secretary Fried: The Contact Group has already said that partition of Kosovo is not a good idea. I wish, speaking personally, I wish that the civil wars that tore old Yugoslavia apart had never occurred. I remember old Yugoslavia. It was a pretty decent country in my memory. It was torn apart by nationalism. I wish it weren't so, but it is so and we can't get it back. So we're left with the situation we're left with.

So far the breakup of former Yugoslavia has left the old constituent elements, borders, unchanged. That is Bosnia-Herzegovina has the same borders it had during Yugoslav times internally.

Question: But not Serbia.

Assistant Secretary Fried: Right. But Kosovo was a political entity in Serbia at the time. It was not a full republic, but it was a political entity.

Also people who talk about partition are forgetting the map. Two-thirds of the Kosovar-Serbs live south of the Ibar, one-third live north. So I would ask the person who advocates partition of Kosovo what exactly they're suggesting. It doesn't seem to me that that is very well thought through.

In any event, the Serbs of Kosovo, no matter where they live, need more control over their daily lives. If anyone in Serbia takes the trouble to actually read what the guarantees are, it's rather impressive. They will have certain rights about policing. They will have educational rights, linguistic rights. They will have the right to relationships and some funding if it is transparent, from Belgrade. That's rather far-reaching.

In other words, if you are living in a majority Serb community, you do not lose your Serbian identity, not just as an individual, but the institutions will remain Serbian in terms of language and education. Your children will go to Serbian language schools. This is all written into Ahtisaari's proposal. And instead of an abstract discussion, it is actually worth it to look at the particular provisions. It is rather far-reaching in terms of rights that the Kosovo-Serb community will have.

Funding from Serbia. Cross-boundary cooperation with Serbian institutions. More than 40 key religious and cultural sites protected and surrounded by protected zones. These are not trivial matters. I think the debate in Serbia needs to focus on what is really there, which is not trivial and not merely symbolic. It is real and it is enforceable.

Question: Keida Kostreci, Albanian Service, Voice of America.

You started at the beginning by saying that status quo is not an option any more, but although this plan may be very good and the Albanians and Serbians should see the concrete, the practical ideas in this plan, the word independence is not used. Although everybody knows that the sides would not agree.

Isn't this another status quo? And what would the position of the United States be were the Kosovo-Albanian authorities to declare their independence unilaterally?

Assistant Secretary Fried participates in Press Roundtable on Kosovo Status Issues.  State Dept. photoAssistant Secretary Fried: Happily, the Kosovo-Albanian leadership has already expressed its support for Ahtisaari's plan, although they have made it clear that they will have a number of suggestions which Ahtisaari has said he will take seriously. So happily that scenario you outlined wont' come to pass.

Ahtisaari's proposal focuses on the details of a settlement. He has chosen to present the settlement in the way he has, I believe, in order to help people focus on the details rather than the symbols. I think it is important for all the parties to focus on the details, on the protections, on the actual arrangements for post-status Kosovo and to do so intently. I think there is no question that this is a good way forward, and I'm pleased that the Kosovar-Albanian leadership has received this plan in a constructive and serious way.

These are serious people, and I know that they're going to respond constructively, and we look forward to working with them. Of course it's President Ahtisaari doing the negotiating, but we do support him.

Question: My name is Matthias Rueb of Germany's Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. You mentioned that you cannot ring the bell of nationalism, and it seems to me that the provision to have an international representative in Kosovo is modeled after the High Representative in Bosnia. But if you look at Bosnia, we're now in the 12th year since the Dayton agreement and to give the minorities or the ethnic groups their own, so to speak, statelets, has also shown that it hinders integration and it does not foster Bosnia identity. Instead it's fostering Serbian, Croat and Bosnian identity. Don't you think the same will happen in Kosovo? That instead of bringing the Serbs in Kosovo to adopt an identity of being part of Kosovo, even though being Serbs, they will be, so to speak, even more Serbian than they are now.

Assistant Secretary Fried: You should actually go to the web site and take a look at the provisions which would answer your question far better than I could. It is true that some of the constitutional arrangements in Bosnia that came out of Dayton have proven not to be optimal in terms of workability. I will say that I believe firmly these were the best attainable, and the people who did the work at Dayton deserve enormous credit. I'm not one of them, so that's not a self-serving comment. But Dick Holbrooke and others helped end a war.

That said, the constitutional arrangements in Bosnia need to be changed. We, the United States, have championed that for some time, to make it more workable.

The arrangements for Kosovo are different. There are extensive plans to guarantee the Serbian community's life at the municipal level. I think that's very workable. But the constitutional arrangements will not include a divided, weak confederation. I think it will be far more workable on an all-Kosovo level than the Bosnian arrangements while still protecting the legitimate rights of the Serbs. So it is different, and you should take a look at what Ahtisaari has come up with.

Question: How long do you envision that the High Representative might be necessary in Kosovo?

Assistant Secretary Fried: According to the plan which has been presented, the civilian representative will review the implementation of the settlement after two years. That doesn't mean it will only be two years. I can't predict. But there will be a review after two years and we'll see how this proceeds.

Question: Helena Djordjevic, Serbian Service, Voice of America. What kind of position do you think that Serbian neighbors will take, the regional countries? If we're talking about regional stabilities, they can be put in an awkward position when they have to choose between recognizing Kosovo and straining their relations with Belgrade.

Assistant Secretary Fried: The question will also be for Belgrade and they will have some difficult choices despite a lot of talk now.

You should ask the neighbors, but as far as I know the neighbors are generally supportive. Macedonia is supportive. Bulgaria is very supportive. Romania is more reserved. Montenegro is very supportive. By supportive I mean of Ahtisaari's process and of moving ahead. Their views have some weight. Greece has been concerned about the effect on Serbia and they have been a champion and I think a very effective one of Serbia's road to Europe and I appreciate their efforts along these lines.

Question: The Bosnian government will be in a difficult position.

Assistant Secretary Fried: But the Bosnians have never suggested that the status quo is preferable. The Republika Srpska, they say different things.

The fact is there is no automatic, easy, risk-free answer. As I said, Yugoslavia was a pretty decently functioning country until Milosevic decided he was going to pursue a radical nationalist agenda. I lived in Yugoslavia between Tito and Milosevic, and it was a pretty decent country, especially considering the neighborhood to the east in those years.

Nationalism brought Serbia nothing. It brought Serbia nothing. And I think a nationalist path brings no good to anyone.

Question: Selena Petrovic, Deutche Welle Serbian Service. There is a lot of diplomacy going around in Serbia, in the region in the past few weeks. What are the specific incentives, if any, that have been offered to Serbia except for what's already in the plan like protection of minorities and everything? But as regards to European integration, Euro-Atlantic integration, military cooperation and such?

Assistant Secretary Fried: NATO took a decision at the Riga Summit in late November to offer Partnership for Peace to Serbia. This was a decision which came late but it was certainly the right decision and it showed Serbia that NATO wanted to get beyond the past and work with it. The European Union can certainly speak for itself, but the EU has made clear that it sees a European future for Serbia as well.

The question for Serbs is whether they will accept a European future for themselves or whether they will retreat into a kind of sullen isolation. That European future is attainable and I think it is quite clear that the European Union is serious in its offers. Now the European Union Troika was in Belgrade, and they've spoken to this far better than I possibly could, and it's not my place in any event. But the European Union, it seems to me, is determined to help Serbia achieve a European future, and it is up to Serbia, therefore, to accept that European future which is available.

Question: Any [inaudible] from the U.S. side?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We have certainly offered NATO cooperation with Serbia. We certainly want to work in partnership with Serbia. We don't want to be estranged from Serbia. In two world wars we were on the same side.

I deeply regret that Milosevic brought Serbia to such a path that we ended up in 1999. It was very painful for all of us who remember better days.

We certainly want to work with Serbia and support it. I should add that the United States has supported a series of countries since 1989 moving from communism to the European Union and NATO, and we have never, we have never failed to support a reforming country in Central and Eastern Europe. We have, however, succeeded every time that a country has done its part to reform itself. We have succeeded every time, and I do not doubt that we'll succeed this time as well if Serbia chooses this past.

Question: President Ahtisaari said today in New York that he will probably finish the final proposal and submit it to the Security Council the end of March, beginning of April for consideration. What will happen - this is the hypothetical part - if you can't have Russia on board? Are you going to go to the Security Council and risk that Russia veto? Or you have a Plan B in that case?

Assistant Secretary Fried: We don't talk about Plan B's; we talk about success with Plan A. We support President Ahtisaari. I have yet to hear any rational argument for something other than roughly his plan. I say roughly because I don't claim that his plan is perfect, and we want to hear what Serbia has to say in terms of the details. But there are some problems that don't go away if you simply wait.

This is not going to resolve itself if we wait five years. Prime Minister Kostunica has said he will never accept certain things. So we have to get on with the best available option we have. But Serbia deserves a European future, and Serbia needs to debate this and not simply hide behind slogans. As Politika has pointed out, the beginning of a debate, there is not unanimity, but there is the beginning of a debate. I am well aware, that there is not unanimity in Serbia. The point is it is a change when there is at least the beginning of a debate as opposed to a uniformity which is false because, in fact, in Serbian society I think people have been more realistic for some time. But somebody had to say it out loud, and I'm glad it's finally started.

Question: My name is Dmitri Kirsanov and I'm from TASS< the Russian news wire service. You said with envious certainty there will be no new war in this part of the world which was not very stable for -

Assistant Secretary Fried: Certainty is your word. I am certain of very little, but I am confident there will be no war because the parties involved have been there and they've done that, and with the exception of some extremist elements which we never can get rid of anywhere in the world, I -

Question: I would like to ask you to elaborate a bit on that. What I remember, for example, Prime Minister Kostunica warned on several occasions that there is a threat of a new hotbed of radicalism and instability in Europe if Kosovo attains independence [inaudible]. Do you share those concerns? Or do you consider them basically groundless and don't see -

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, I would say this. Consider the alternatives that we have in the real world. Not an ideal world that doesn't exist, the real world we've got before us. If we try to maintain the status quo what do you think, this is a rhetorical question, but what do you think or what does Prime Minister Kostunica really think will happen in Kosovo? They have waited eight years. Will they wait for ten more? Twenty more? Does he imagine that the status quo will go on for 100 years? Is that serious?

If we decide that the status quo must go on, won't that itself lead to a radicalization? Don't we have the best chance of the best achievable outcome by proceeding? After all, the current leadership in Kosovo is saying all the right things and doing most of the right things. If we wait, are we waiting for a better leadership? Or if we wait are we simply going to preside over a deteriorating situation? Did you enjoy March 2004? I know I didn't. Do we really want to wait? And wait for what?

These are not ideal choices. But as I've said a couple of times, we lost the ideal when old Yugoslavia broke up, and it just didn't break up, it was murdered. There we are.

Question: My name is Slobodan Pavlovic. I am with BK Television from Belgrade, Serbia.
In your opening statement I noticed a sort of optimistic note when you said that in Serbia there is a growing debate about the future status -

Assistant Secretary Fried: The beginning of a debate.

Question: Yeah. Okay. I am just back from Belgrade. I have been there for the elections and the first week after. I haven't noticed any debate, I must tell you. I know that you are excited about an article that was published a couple of days ago in Politika in Belgrade, but is there any other source for your optimism? As far as I can see, the [inaudible] in Serbia are more than never.

Assistant Secretary Fried: I don't want to exaggerate or suggest that somehow Serbia will suddenly decide, suddenly reverse its long-held position. But I think after a long period of denial there is an actual realization that, A, there are some serious choices that Belgrade has to make; and B, a simple resort to extremist slogans does not do Serbia any good.

As I said, someone had to be the first to say publicly what many Serbs I know are saying privately. Someone had to be the first. There is a debate. I know perfectly well what you're referring to, but Serbs need to have a serious discussion.

There has been a sort of unreality to the discussion in Serbia as if 1999 never happened, as if Milosevic was a mythical figure created for propaganda purposes. Well, he wasn't. Things happened. I wish they hadn't, but they did.

This is not going to be easy, but as I said, plenty of people warned Milosevic where he was taking his country and unfortunately there are certain consequences.

Question: I just have to insist you really are mentioning status quo and of the alternative to status quo, but you are not mentioning what the status is. The plan may be good, and, as you say, the practical things are more important than symbols. But all of us are saying that Albanians are settling for less with this plan. I just have to insist, what do you envision and what do the United States envision the status to be in order to give the Kosovar Albanians and Serbs the means to run probably the future of their own state?

Assistant Secretary Fried: That is a very fair question, but I will choose to answer it by saying that for now Ahtisaari envisions a discussion on the practical elements. I think that the Kosovo-Albanian leadership has a very good idea of where things stand. I think there is very little mystery left. We know what we're talking about, but for the moment let's discuss the practical steps. I hope that the Kosovar-Albanians and Kosovo-Serbs and Belgrade will all work with Ahtisaari and give concrete ideas. Fair question.

Question: That is the U.S. word?

Assistant Secretary Fried: This is the U.S. word for now, but I think everyone understands perfectly well where this is headed. I think right now it's important to really have a serious set of exchanges with Ahtisaari. He affirmed today that he is open to this and eager for it.

Thank you very much.

Released on February 9, 2007

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