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The Future of Serbia and Kosovo

Daniel Fried, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Roundtable with Visiting Serbian Journalists
Washington, DC
June 15, 2007

Assistant Secretary Daniel Fried during press roundtable with visiting Serbian journalists.  Photo courtesy of News Agency FoNetAssistant Secretary Fried: I'd like to start out by making two points. One is that the United States wants to see Serbia as a full member of the Euro-Atlantic community. After the terrible wars that tore apart old Yugoslavia, Serbia has a chance to have a better future for itself and the people of Serbia deserve that chance. Whatever happens in Kosovo, we want to see Serbia have an unobstructed road to Europe and the Euro-Atlantic community. In that the United States is joined by every nation in Europe. We all agree that Serbia needs that future.

My second point is that Kosovo must be resolved not simply for the sake of the people of Kosovo -- Albanians and Serbs -- but it needs to be resolved for the sake of Serbia's future. It seems to me as a long-time student of Serbian affairs that until Kosovo is resolved politics in Serbia will never go forward.

The Kosovo status will be resolved. You know my government's view, that Kosovo will be independent. That is not simply an opinion; it is also a statement of where we think the result will be. Serbia's leaders need to get beyond denial. They need to stop telling the Serbian people that it will not happen. They need to tell the Serbian people the truth which is that Milosevic lost Kosovo when he went to war with NATO and committed atrocities against the Kosovars. I will tell the truth if the Serbian leaders cannot, and that truth is that Serbia will not rule in Kosovo any more than Hungary will rule in the Vojvodina. It's gone. It's over.

I'm sorry that Yugoslavia fell apart in the way it did because it wasn't really such a bad idea. It was one way for all the Serbs to live in one state. It was such a good idea that it should not have been torn apart, least of all by a Serbia leader. But it's gone.

Now the only way for all Serbs to live in one political community is for all of the Balkans, all of the countries, to join the European Union where these issues will not matter any more. That is the only way Serbs will ever live in one political community.

They will not do it by violence. Milosevic's way to create a greater Serbia created a lesser Serbia. The nationalists have brought ruin to Serbia, and Serbs should follow them no more.

So, ironically -- and this is a great historical irony -- the only way to get what Serbs say they want is to give up what they can't have. The only way for Serbs to live in one political community is for Serbia to go to Europe as Serbia and help all of the other countries that emerge from the wreckage of Yugoslavia to do the same: Bosnia-Herzegovina, Crna Gora [Montenegro], Hrvatska [Croatia] and Kosovo.

I'll end these introductory remarks blunt but honest because someone has to be honest, by saying that none of us involved in Kosovo policy and dealing with the problems of old Yugoslavia do this with any sense of pleasure. It is sad. It is sad that so many people died and sad that a country was torn apart and sad that so much time is lost. But not everything is lost. Serbia can attain a great future for itself, which it deserves.

On that note, I will end where I started. And forgive me for my bluntness, but when I read the newspapers, when I read what is written in Belgrade, I think, my God, will no one tell the truth? Is everyone afraid or calculating or cynical? So I will do so. At least.

Now I'll be happy to answer your questions, and please tell me which newspaper you're from.

Question: This was very direct and very clear and thank you for that. Can you tell us particularly one thing which has arise in the last days, very very strong words have been announced in Belgrade against President Bush's statement. Can you tell us how do you estimate these [inaudible], whether it can be improved, [inaudible], what is going on in this moment?

Assistant Secretary Fried: You mean between the U.S. and Serbian governments?

Question: Yes.

Assistant Secretary Fried: We do not regard these harsh words as being the end of a productive Serbian-American relationship. Nor do we regard this criticism as changing our mind about what we want for Serbia. When I said we want Serbia to be part of Europe, we meant it.

I do not expect that Prime Minister Kostunica will do anything except criticize us, but that will not stop us from seeking to help Serbia attain a European future because there are Serbs who want this, and a great many of them.

I was with President Bush on his European trip, and I can tell you that he understands the issue of Kosovo very very well. What he said, he meant. In other words, he was not reading some piece of paper that some bureaucrat such as myself gave to him. He meant it.

I think the Serbian leaders -- your Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic, your President, Boris Tadic -- understand that we are serous when we say we want a European future for Serbia. I hope Serbia is not dragged back into that dark place of anger and isolation. But we want to move forward. Serbia deserves a better future than that dark past.

Question: What if Russia remains firm in opposing?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Russia may well. I have no reason to believe that Russia is doing anything than expressing its views. Nevertheless, I believe that Kosovo will be independent.

I believe the best prospect for a stable independence that helps guarantee what I've always called the Srpstvo of Kosovo, the Serbian community both living and historic is through the Ahtisaari Plan, and I must say that it would be good if people who denounce the Ahtisaari Plan actually occasionally took the time to read it, or even parts of it, because 90 percent of the Ahtisaari Plan involves detailed and specific and enforceable guarantees for the Serbian community and the Orthodox monasteries and their lands. So we look forward not merely to Kosovo independence, but to its supervised independence, and the purpose of the supervision is to see to it that Ahtisaari's provisions, especially those regarding guarantees for the Serbian population, are maintained. This will, I believe, happen. It will happen easily or in a manner that is more difficult. But I believe it will happen.

Question: With or without Russian cooperation?

Assistant Secretary Fried: It will happen one way or another. It would be better if it were happening with Russian cooperation. And here, although the Russians have very little good to say about the Ahtisaari Plan, I will say this. Russian experts on the Balkans are of extremely high quality. These are very knowledgeable people as well as very smart ones. There were Russians who worked on the Ahtisaari Plan, with our support, all of us who worked on the Ahtisaari Plan and made suggestions, made sure that the Ahtisaari Plan did as much for the Serbian community as possible, and it does a great deal.

In fact, it's a great irony that Russia could claim a significant diplomatic victory because it championed very far-reaching guarantees in the Ahtisaari plan for the Serbian community, and it got everything it asked for basically. But it's an irony that Russia doesn't want to recognize the strengths of the Ahtisaari Plan because then it might have to support it. But that's a different story.

But I did want to single out for particular respect Russia's Balkan experts. They're very serious people, and they did a lot to protect the interests of the Serb community and they were quite successful. With our support. They didn't fight us. We were on the same team, and no one was against this, which shows how much good can happen when we're working together.

Question: Is it possible to expect some changes of the Ahtisaari Plan or some other kind of compromise which would be acceptable to Serbia?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I think the Ahtisaari Plan is a detailed package and it's hard to imagine reopening it. However, you remember that at Heiligendamm French President Sarkozy had a proposal which was quite interesting, and the elements involved independence for Kosovo but also a period -- in his view it was six months, the period isn't so important -- of negotiations between the Kosovars and the Serbs. This plan met with a lot of interest on the part of seven out of the eight G8 members. I was there so I participated in these discussions. Russia was not interested and so we did not achieve agreement on this.

But those discussions could include, if there had been agreement, the discussions that Sarkozy was talking about might have included steps toward implementing Ahtisaari which would have shown the Serbs of Kosovo that it was real, that it wasn't just talk.

In a period of negotiations, however, the two sides would be able to discuss what they wanted to discuss. The outcome would be supervised independence and they would both have to agree. But I don't want to prejudge this. It's just unfortunate that this very promising way forward proposed by Sarkozy was not accepted.

Question: What about correction of borders?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Well, no one in the Contact Group, including Russia, has ever supported any change of the borders. We have throughout the period of the disintegration of Yugoslavia not changed any of the borders that were established by the 1974 constitution. That is the republic borders or the border of Kosovo within the Serbian Republic, and it's a very dangerous notion to start opening up one border. We don't favor that.

Question: But if that will resolve the solution?

Assistant Secretary Fried: I don't want to speculate, but we have not supported any border changes.

Question: We can hear that there is possible unrest in Kosovo, the Albanians be unsatisfied, so what is your message to Albanians regarding violence?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Our message has been and will be that violence is completely unacceptable, it is outrageous. The threat of violence comes not only from the Kosovar Albanians. There are Kosovo Serb radicals. The last time I was in Kosovo some Kosovo Serbs from the north, from the Mitrovica area, forcibly broke up a meeting of other Kosovo Serbs. So the violence is on both sides and it is equally unacceptable.

There are so-called super patriots, so-called Chetniks bands, others, Serbs who are as capable of making trouble as Kosovar Albanians. Violence, nationalism, and nationalist stupidity knows no national identity. It is a universal failing and all nations are capable of producing such fools. They are all equally unacceptable. I have to say this: that KFOR is much more ready to deal with troublemakers than it was in March 2004 when it did not, I will acknowledge, perform adequately. It has been reinforced.

Question: Do you expect that Kosovo independence actually in the case of unilateral recognition can cause instability in Serbia?

Assistant Secretary Fried: Unilateral recognition is a bad idea, okay? I just want to say that. It is a bad idea. We don't like that idea at all.

I can't answer the question because I honestly don't know. Sometimes I have the feeling, and it is no more than a feeling, I have a feeling that the people of Serbia know the truth and are far ahead of some of their leaders in understanding reality, but it is a truth that no one likes to speak out loud. I regard it as a failure of leadership to keep up a pretense that nothing can change as long as Serbia is defiant. I think that is not right. I think leadership is not simply defiance for the purpose of making yourself seem more staunch. I think leadership is bringing your people to the best possible place.

It isn't the fault of any Serbian leader today that Yugoslavia fell apart. It is the fault of Milosevic, principally, and others, but it is not their fault. Nevertheless, they must deal with the consequences. It's not the fault of the Germans living today, not the fault of the German government today that Hitler started World War II. It's not the fault of Hungary that the Kingdom of Hungary doesn't exist any more and that Slovakia, Transylvania, the Vojvodina are gone. These are historical realities. They happened. They cannot be reversed.

Leadership is not simply manipulating nationalist slogans and nationalist feelings for domestic purposes. I'm not accusing any person; I'm just stating a general principle. And I've spent, as you know, many years in Eastern Europe and the Balkans. I do not respect nationalists of any stripe -- not Albanian, not Serb, not Croat, not anybody. They're all alike. They're all alike. It starts with ringing declarations and great speeches and ends up with refugee camps, and has for a hundred years.

Question: I want to return about the violence in Kosovo. Would your message be for Albanians that if there is violence against Serbs there will be no independence for Kosovo or --

Assistant Secretary Fried: I would put it this way. Violence is unacceptable and the Kosovo leadership has spoken out against violence. President Sejdiu, Prime Minister Ceku have behaved responsibly. The Kosovo government cannot be responsible for all the hotheads, but they are responsible for a climate of tolerance and for setting and example, and so far they have done so. But violence is not acceptable and KFOR will deal with it. Our message has been very clear, and it is equally clear to the Kosovo Serbs, most of whom I am convinced want to live in peace and security. They want a future and they want to remain in Kosovo. As Serbs. And as Serbs I mean having education, culture, a connection to Serbia, the churches. That's what I mean when I say the Srpstvo of Kosovo.

I was in Kosovo fairly recently, earlier this year. I think that the Serbs want to live there and I think it is our responsibility to help -- our, the responsibility of the United States, the international community -- to help them remain there. And not just as individuals, but as an intact cultural community.

As I said, we don't support anyone's nationalism and it is another irony, there are many ironies in this situation, it is another irony that the Ahtisaari Plan would best protect them. Those who say they are friends of Kosovo Serbs and look out for Kosovo Serbs should do more to actually protect real live Serbs, and not some theoretical principle.

Question: Do you think that independence of Kosovo can bring stability in the region? Or stability [inaudible] the Balkans?

Assistant Secretary Fried: That's a reasonable question. Let me put it this way. The status quo is not stable. The status quo will bring instability if we try to maintain it.

I was fairly recently in Banja Luca and I met with Mr. Dodik. He struck me and made the case that Republika Srpska will remain in Bosnia, and I pointed out to him that the United States does not support the abolition of Republika Srpska but supports a gradual, serious reform of the Bosnian constitutional arrangements, but not one that does violence or blows up Dayton. I think that he's serious about this.

I think that in Macedonia there's been great progress under the Ohrid Agreement. I think a peaceful resolution of Kosovo status would be stabilizing. The reason I think it would be stabilizing is because afterwards all of the countries of the region could start moving to Europe together. That would be stabilizing.

So I think the status quo is destabilizing. I think moving ahead is stabilizing. But you have to get over a very difficult period to get to that better place beyond.

One more question.

Question: Eight years is a very long period, very bad for Kosovo for Serbia. Why not finish everything [inaudible]?

Assistant Secretary Fried: That's a good question. I've asked that myself. This is not meant as any criticism of any of the people in the Clinton administration who were responsible because I think that campaign was right, I think they did the right thing and it was successful. I think they felt they achieved as much as they could have at the time. You know, you don't get second chances. It's a fair question. Shouldn't you have just done it then? And they might even agree. But these were serious people who did their best under tough circumstances.

Madeleine Albright is a friend, someone I admire as well as respect. You're right, and maybe it would have been better, but we are where we are.

So sure, that's a reasonable position to take. We can only do what we can do. I think waiting more time is not going to help.

I'm glad to have seen you and I am sorry the issues are so difficult. I want to be able to discuss things like Serbia's progress in the European Union, Serbia's desire to joint NATO eventually. I would much rather have that discussion. The only way to have it is to get beyond where we are and get on with life.

So thank you very much.

Question: Thank you.

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