The Kosovo Future Status ProcessDaniel Fried, Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs; Rosemary DiCarlo, Deputy Assistant Secretary
March 13, 2007
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I'd like to convey to you my impressions and sense after a week of intense meetings and discussions in Belgrade and then throughout Kosovo. Rosemary can say something about the Vienna talks which took place on Saturday.
I spent Monday and Tuesday in Belgrade; Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday in Pristina, but also throughout Kosovo, and I'll get to that in a minute. In Belgrade, my message -- my public message to the Serbs was that the United States in particular, but also the transatlantic community in general, wants to see Serbia as part of our common family and part of our common institutions. Whatever the final outcome on Kosovo, we do not want to see a Europe whole, free and at peace with Serbia as an exception. We want to see Serbia as part of this Europe whole, free and at peace.
I said so in a public speech at the Stari Dvor, the old Belgrade -- the old Serbian royal castle. And that was a point I also made in my meetings with President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica.
I then went -- oh, I should say that I did not get into the details of Ahtisaari's proposal but I did convey to both leaders that it was my understanding that Ahtisaari was prepared to take serious, workable suggestions, including those made on the 10th, and I urged both leaders to come to the table with such suggestions.
I then went to Kosovo and I met not only with the Albanian -- the Kosovo Albanian leadership, which I did, but also with Kosovo Serbs both in the north -- I met with mayors -- three mayors there. I met with Oliver Ivanovic, known as a moderate Kosovo Serb leader, also from the north. I met with -- I went to the Decani Serbian Orthodox Monastery in the far west and met with Bishop Teodosije, who made clear, like the mayors, that he intends to stay in Kosovo past status. I went to the south and met with the Kosovo Serb mayor of one of the municipalities that is going to be in Ahtisaari's plan as one of the new empowered municipalities with certain rights. It is a Serb-majority municipality. I also met with KFOR in the north, the KFOR commander in Pristina and with the Americans out of Bondsteel who operate in the south.
My overwhelming impression in Kosovo is first that the Kosovo Serbs, who may not like this process, who wish they were in a different situation altogether, are determined for the most part to stay in Kosovo after the status process is concluded. They want to live in peace, in security, but they want to live in Kosovo. I did not hear the mayors talk about mass exodus. I did not hear threats of violence. I did not hear demands and threats of disruption.
What I did hear was a great deal of concern about the future, a desire for clarity, a desire for an international presence in Kosovo beyond the status process, and from a great many Kosovo Serbs I had -- I heard strong impression -- expressions of support for KFOR and for what KFOR is doing to protect them.
From the Kosovo Albanian leadership, I heard over and over a commitment to a Kosovo where all the Kosovars -- Albanians, Serbs, Bosnians, Turks, all of the historic communities now in Kosovo -- remain in Kosovo.
Obviously, all of the parties are anticipating this process now moving from the Ahtisaari-led negotiations to the UN, as it will do, and Rosemary can mention a little bit about this. But it is clear that the people of Kosovo about whom all of this is taking place do want in the main to live together. They are apprehensive about each other. There is clearly not a great deal of trust, but there is at least a determination to try to make the Ahtisaari plan work.
Now, I should mention that there are also Kosovo Serb hardliners with whom I did not meet. These are some of the people who over last weekend, weekend before this past one, forcibly broke up a meeting of moderate Kosovo Serbs. So there is a tension within the Kosovo Serb community, and I don't want to suggest it is otherwise.
A final thought. As I said to my Serbian friends, the choices the international community faces in Kosovo are not an ideal set of choices; an ideal set of choices is no longer attainable -- the ideal choices went away as Yugoslavia broke up. And as I said in Belgrade, Yugoslavia didn't break up so much as it was murdered by extreme nationalists.
That being the case, the international community is faced with difficult choices under difficult circumstances, but we must make the most of what we've got. And I leave convinced that, as I was going in, we cannot go back to the situation before 1999, we cannot stay where we are. The status quo is not sustainable, so we must therefore look ahead and deal with status. Rosemary, who was in Vienna, can talk a little bit about that, and then we can answer questions.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY DICARLO: Well, I think you all got at least a partial readout of the talks that were held on Saturday in Vienna. I attended along with Ambassador Wisner -- we were part of the Contact Group delegation that were observers to the talks.
As you know, the sides did not come to agreement on a status outcome, nor are they agreed on all the provisions in the Ahtisaari settlement proposal. That said, we have to bear in mind where we are, and we have a proposal on the table now that improves the lives of Kosovo Serbs, that improves the lives of Kosovo Albanians, that will help lead to a much more stable, democratic, prosperous society in Kosovo.
Ahtisaari plans to put some revisions to his proposal in the coming days. He has taken into account many of the proposals that were made by both Belgrade and Pristina to amend the document in certain ways. And he has made very clear and said so publicly that he will then send his proposal to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon with the intent that Ban Ki-moon will then pass it to the Security Council for review.
We think that Ahtisaari has done an extremely good job. He's shown great flexibility. He's gone to great lengths to accommodate the parties. What he has produced are compromises for both sides. There are some very hard compromises in this settlement document. We think it's time that we encourage the parties to come together around Ahtisaari's proposal and find common ground. We support his intention to go to New York with the proposal and we are looking forward to further discussions with him and the parties in the coming days.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, with that, we'd be happy to take questions. Yes.
QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said yesterday that the so-called independence of Kosovo "will be the most dangerous precedent in the history of the United Nations," including, of course, minority living in the United States of America. Do you agree on the precedent?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: No.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Kosovo is not a precedent for any other situation. There are a great many parts of the world that have issues between majority and minority communities. There are a great many parts of the world that have separatist communities. There is no situation anywhere in the world that bears a resemblance to Kosovo. There is no place where the UN has been administering a territory for seven -- now close to eight -- years. There is no case where NATO was forced to intervene to stop a massive process of ethnic cleansing. The precedent simply doesn't apply. We have said before, and we'll say again as many times as we have to, that Kosovo is not precedent for any other area, whether that's Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Chechnya, Transnistria, Corsica or Texas. (Laughter.) Okay. It just isn't and it won't be.
I don't think that we have to accept that rather dramatic language at face value. We should point out, all of us concerned and I -- and by the we in this case, I mean, the Contact Group -- that it is not a happy situation we find ourselves in. It is an unhappy situation involving years of accelerating problems and massive ethnic cleansing and then a brief war and trouble and a period over the past few years which has not been as satisfactory as many would like. But that said, we have to go forward the best way we know how. I'm sorry, speaking personally, that Yugoslavia fell apart in the way it did. I think it was a tragedy, but it is not a tragedy of the making of the Contact Group or its members or the international community generally. We have to deal as responsibly as we can with the aftermath.
QUESTION: This is --
QUESTION: I have --
MODERATOR: One question per person. Sylvie, please.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) goes now to the UN. Do you think you will have the support of Russia for the proposal you are supporting?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, we have worked -- the United States and Russia have worked very closely and collaboratively within the Contact Group. This group has worked together for years, and at every stage we have worked in support of Ahtisaari and support of this process.
I should mention that in Belgrade and Pristina both, I met with the Contact Group ambassadors or chiefs-of-mission in Pristina and -- as is my habit -- and explained what I had done and what I intended to do next. So we will continue to do this. I hope that our cooperation will continue and I expect that it shall. Obviously, Russia has expressed its concern, but they can -- and they can speak for themselves. But the fact is we have had a good record of cooperation to this point.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that? If there is no resolution, is the NATO force in Kosovo prepared to prevent major violence and bloodshed? Is it prepared to take responsibility for that situation if it cannot be prevented?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, I would say this. Both -- leaders of all the communities have urged that NATO forces under KFOR remain in the country for some period of time, and that, in fact, is NATO's intention. When I met with the NATO commanders, I obviously talked about the problem that might be created by extremists from both sides trying to stage provocations. And I must say that NATO has done a great deal of thinking and a great deal of planning to prevent and, if not -- if complete prevention is not possible in the real world, to minimize the problems. The Americans in the south have a presence in all the Serb-majority municipalities. They have good relations with them. NATO has -- KFOR has established a -- has strengthened its presence in the north, north of the Ibar, and is developing good ties with the Kosovo Serb mayors.
KFOR is also prepared to deal with extremists on both sides. These extremists exist; that's a fact. It is also a fact -- and many Kosovo Serbs pointed this out as well as Kosovo Albanians -- that an orderly, well-managed process where the international community remains united and allows for an extended international presence, which is an integral element of Ahtisaari's plan, is far preferable to stalemate, deadlock, dithering, which would then put into question an international presence which then brings -- which would bring to the fore all the problems you're worried about.
QUESTION: Not necessarily, because all of them want to join the united Europe. What's wrong with waiting until then and have them enter united Europe as a single entity?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, I think after eight years the overwhelming sense in the Contact Group, certainly in the U.S. Government, is that the people of Kosovo need clarity. Delay is not going to bring more stability. Delay, on the contrary, could bring about exactly the kind of instability you are worried about. It is fair to ask about stability and instability, but we think that moving ahead in an orderly fashion gives us the best chance to get to the outcome that we all want.
QUESTION: Even if you bring the Russia on board and the Security Council adopt a resolution stating that Kosovo will get some kind of supervised independence, you obviously heard in Belgrade and I think it is not secret that there is no politician in Belgrade who will sign something like this or accept independence of Kosovo, any kind of independence. How do you think that you will have stability in the region with that outcome of a Security Council resolution?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: It is quite true, as you said, that there are few -- there are a few -- there are some but there are not many Serbian politicians --
QUESTION: And they're not in power. They are not in power.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: -- who will explicitly endorse a final status for Kosovo such as independence that they have for years said they object to. No one is going to ask Serbian leaders to sign some piece of paper, you know, which says we hereby make Kosovo independence. That is not part of the plan. But it is also clear that the Serbs of Serbia, according to public opinion polls, generally realize where this is headed and do want to go to Europe. And the question is whether the leadership in Belgrade will behave, will act in a manner which opens up and keeps open a European future for Serbia which is important for that country.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY DICARLO: Can I just add something? I just want to make the point on status quo and stability -- on stability. First of all, in 2005 the Contact Group made very clear that they felt that the status quo in Kosovo was not sustainable -- all members of the Contact Group. That was confirmed by the UN Security Council when the UN Security Council endorsed the appointment of Martti Ahtisaari to lead the talks. So I think we all knew as of 2005 that we had to move forward on this issue.
And secondly on stability, after there is a decision or an agreement, we can look to the Ahtisaari proposal, I think, for helping to achieve stability and the kind of stability that's needed. We don't have that right now in Kosovo. But the arrangements that President Ahtisaari is proposing will help a great deal, and we should remember that even if the two sides could not come to agreement on an outcome and if there are some outstanding issues, about 80 percent of that document was agreed to by both Belgrade and Pristina.
QUESTION: Just follow up. I talk about regional stability, not stability in Kosovo --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well it seems that after --
QUESTION: -- between Serbia and Kosovo.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: -- after I spent two days -- two and a half days in Pristina, I went to Skopje. The Macedonians obviously have a strong stake in this and they appear to be quite supportive of moving ahead. They have a large Albanian community. They are -- it is a majority ethnic Slav-Macedonian country. But with both communities, their conclusion -- and this is opposition as well as the government -- is that this process has to move ahead. So their voice is important.
QUESTION: Hello (inaudible). My question is for Madame DiCarlo. How do you see the Russian position at the Vienna meeting or the Contact Group, regarding the final status of Kosovo?
And second part is for Secretary Fried. Do you see any possibility there is no consensus before the resolution for the Security Council? Is there any possibility for a G-8 Summit in Germany in three months time to say a final word about Kosovo?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, it's always dangerous to predict diplomatic calendars, because things haven't happened yet and we don't write the script in Washington. But the issues ought to be resolved at the Security Council and these discussions will begin once President Ahtisaari has submitted his documents to the Secretariat.
DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY DICARLO: If I could just add, as I said, we were observers at the Vienna meeting, but we obviously had separate meetings and discussions while we were there. And Russia made very clear they respect Ahtisaari's decision to go to the Security Council. He is -- his mandate comes from the Secretary General and the UN Security Council and he will be reporting to them.
QUESTION: Who were the members of the Contact Group, (a)? And (b), could you tell us more about the opposition groups or as you call them, extremist groups on both sides? Are they armed, organized and dangerous?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: The Contact Group consists of Russia, Germany, France, the United States, Italy and Great Britain. First of all, this is the Balkans. People have guns. All right? So if there is a group in the Balkans, it is almost by definition, especially in Kosovo, it is almost by definition armed; that its people have guns at home. That's a fact of life. There are extremists on both sides, and it is the nature of nationalist extremists that they all sound alike, sometimes exactly alike. Their sense of grievance, their sense of myopia, their sense of externalizing the enemy. These groups exemplify the worst tradition that has brought so much misery to that part of the world. They are both Serb and Albanian. They are not majority; they are minority. But small minorities can do a lot of harm if they are not kept in check.
Now, with respect to the Albanian community, you have a leadership. The Kosovo-Albanian leadership has come out quite strongly and as it turns out effectively against some of the extremists. There was a violent demonstration earlier in February and then a second demonstration planned.
For the second demonstration, the Kosovo leadership made clear that in their words, those who are demonstrating violently were not friends, but the enemies of Kosovo's future. Those are my words, not theirs. But I think I'm pretty close to right. And the second demonstration was peaceful. But these groups do exist. There are Serbian -- Serb extremist groups, particularly in the north -- north of the Ibar River. They've been in -- some of them in Mitrovica, the so-called bridge gang. These are people who like the combat. They want to find enemies.
As I mentioned earlier, a rather thuggish group crossed the Ibar, went down to Gracanica, a town in Kosovo and broke up a peaceful meeting of Kosovo-Serb moderates, people trying to work with -- work for a better future in Kosovo for their communities. So you have extremists on both sides and the question is can the responsible forces on both sides of that divide work together sufficiently and does Ahtisaari's plan provide sufficient protections for the Serb community, yet an attractive enough future for Kosovo that, in fact, we can avoid the worst.
There will be extremists who stage provocations and we all know this. But extremists staging provocations in a context where the international community is supporting a solution which provides for the rights of all of the Kosovar citizens in general and specifically for the rights of the Serb community. That will be a far better situation than a situation where there is no process and no hope and no status resolution. In that case, there will be far more trouble, far more bloodshed, I fear. But fortunately -- fortunately --the international community is supporting Ahtisaari. Ahtisaari does have a plan and that gives us the best possible odds of the best possible outcome.
QUESTION: Can you just explain what the Security Council -- what it means to go to Security Council? What exactly does it have to do? And secondly how long do you envision having NATO troops there? I mean, what are we talking about?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: NATO, KFOR, will remain there as long as it's needed, and I think we're looking at reviewing where we are, after status is resolved and after the situation is somewhat consolidated. And then we'll review periodically to see what makes sense. Right now the people -- all of the peoples of Kosovo seem quite supportive of NATO's presence. I suppose some of the extremists might disagree, but the overwhelming majority seems supportive.
Going to the Security Council means eventually working on a resolution, but that -- I don't want to get into a discussion of that because the resolution has not been prepared and it needs to be discussed and debated. And this discussion in the Security Council will take some time. There are Security Council members who will want to be heard from, and I think in a situation as serious as this, there needs to be a serious discussion of how we got here and what the best option is. But I think that there has been a lot of preparatory work laid and we go -- when Ahtisaari presents his report, I think there has been a good basis for people to make the right decisions and take the next steps.
QUESTION: Do we have to go there because of old resolutions? Is that --
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Well, Security Council Resolution 1244, which was passed in 1999, essentially authorizes the UN to take charge of Kosovo and says that status of Kosovo will be decided at some future date. Therefore, it is far preferable and many people believe, actually, necessary to go to the Security Council. I'm not a lawyer, but it is our plan to go; and it always has been our plan to go to the Security Council for the next step.
MODERATOR: I'm going to -- we have time for two more questions, because we've got to get to an 11:30 sharp. People who haven't asked a question -- I have one here and we'll take Sue back here and then we'll wrap up. This isn't the last time we'll do this. We'll do this as we go forward in the process.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Oh, yes.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: Mr. Fried, the situation in Kosovo is quite volatile despite the engagement of the Albanian leaders who keep it in check. And it seems that both Albanians and Serbs pretty much see a Russian veto in the Security Council as very probable, and despite that there is a different emotional charge with that. But the Albanians seem to be counting more, at least the population, on the possibility of recognition of a state status on a bilateral agreement basis. So is the United States considering recognizing Kosovo as a state if it happens that we need that Russian veto in the Security Council?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I would not assume that there will be a Russian veto. We have, so far, worked collaboratively with the Russians and it's our intention to keep working. I cannot speak for Russia and I certainly am not saying that I know the way the Russians will go on a resolution, but I don't -- I think your question is hypothetical and therefore, I don't have to address the what-ifs, except to say that it is our intention to go to the Security Council and work with the Contact Group, with our allies, and with our partners on this.
QUESTION: The Security Council is notorious for taking a long time to come up with resolutions and to act. Are you concerned that in the meantime, while all these deliberations are going on at the UN, this will provide time for either side to sort of rearm or arm themselves up even more and then you will end up with a much more devastating situation because you couldn't bring the two sides together before going to the UN?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY FRIED: I don't think so. And, in fact, I had this discussion with the Kosovo-Albanian -- the Kosovo leadership and my impression is, as they see the international community taking this seriously, their confidence will grow. I think what they fear is prolonged stalemate with nothing happening or abandonment by the international community of the process on the grounds that it's just too hard. I think as they see the engagement by the Contact Group countries and as they see our commitment to try to resolve this in a responsible and peaceful way, their ability to rein in and check their extremists will be maintained and it may even grow.
You mentioned the volatility of the situation in Kosovo. I actually asked about the number of incidents because there is a great deal of misunderstanding in the sense that everyday people are being shot at or it's very -- it's -- you know, physically dangerous. There aren't that many incidents, actually, that take place. There are a few, but not many. There is a great deal of apprehension and there is mistrust. There are not actually a massive number of incidents, and these have been dropping by all accounts.
I did not hear complaints about harassment or particular incidents from the Kosovo Serbs. I did hear concerns about the future. And I think that they could have said anything allotted to me, so I think that's more the situation. The situation in Kosovo is not going to get better through neglect. It will improve as we take tough decisions to show Kosovo and show Serbia a future that is a better future.
And finally, last thought; I'll say here what I said to some of my Serbian friends. Look; Yugoslavia was one way of bringing all Serbs into one political entity without war. It had its faults and it failed, but it was not a terrible idea in itself. The only other way for all Serbs to live in one political community, if not a state, is for all of the region to move into the European Union. And that is the future on which all of the responsible communities agree, all of them: Kosovo Serb, Kosovo Albanian, all of the minorities, even most people I spoke with in Belgrade, Serbs from Belgrade believe that a common European future is the ultimate answer.
And the trick will be getting the communities, getting the leaders to focus on that answer and not on what judiciable decisions that lie between us and that answer. So thank you very much and we will have more opportunities.