On-The-Record Briefing on his Trip to the BalkansNicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
June 10, 2005
(10:15 a.m. EST)
MR. CASEY: Welcome everyone. This is an on-the-record briefing by Under Secretary Nick Burns. As you know, he's just returned from a trip to the Balkans. Among the other things that he did while he was out there was announce the Secretary's decision to
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Certify.
MR. CASEY: Certify thank you the government in Belgrade as sufficiently cooperating to allow for the release of $10 million in funding that had been withheld.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You can quote him on that, too.
MR. CASEY: You can quote me on that, too. There you go. Want to give an opportunity to talk to you a little bit about his trip and also, more importantly, about our activities in the region and the efforts we're making with the international community.
Nick, welcome. Glad to have you.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, Mr. Casey. Let me just say a few things off the top. I was in Europe this week, I was a day in London for G-8 meetings. You know, the Secretary has a foreign ministers meeting with the G-8 on June 23 and the President has Gleneagles and also for a meeting on Iran with the EU-3. Following that, I went to the Balkans. And what I just wanted to say, just to review very briefly, what the United States is trying to accomplish in the Balkans.
This is an important year because there are two important 10-year anniversaries and both of these anniversaries are having a profound impact on the politics of the region. And they speak to how far these countries have come and how far they need to go. The first is July 11th of this year, which is the 10th anniversary of the massacre at Srebrenica, when General Mladic Ratko Mladic ordered the execution of 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica itself. It was the worst by far, the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazis, since the Second World War. And since then, there has been an attempt, of course, to find General Mladic and to arrest him and extradite him in The Hague. And I want to talk about that in a minute.
The second anniversary, the 10-year anniversary, is that of the Dayton Accords. And in fact, some of us at this table were together in Dayton, Ohio, ten years ago with Dick Holbrooke. And the Dayton Accords, of course, are the architecture of Bosnia-Herzegovina to this day. And the Dayton Accords also are being seen as the success, as not as a model for what will happen in Kosovo in terms of the process, but as an inspiration for what we might now do in 2005 and 2006 to try to deal with the Kosovo problem.
And so all these countries and I was in Sarajevo and Bosnia-Herzegovina and I was in Pristina in Kosovo and I was in Belgrade yesterday on Wednesday and yesterday. All these countries are dealing with their history. And the history is still very, very much present, particularly the history of 10 years ago.
And if you take them one at a time in Sarajevo, there is a need for the United States what I said in Sarajevo was that the United States was reaffirming our diplomatic engagement in that country and across the region by this trip, as Secretary Rice has decided, that we need to be fundamentally engaged and very actively engaged in 2005 in each of these places to help them move forward. And in Bosnia-Herzegovina the issue is Mladic. The issue is dealing with the history and the legacy of the massacre of Muslims by the Bosnian Serb forces. And we have made it clear for a number of years that a normal relationship either with the Bosnian Serbs or with the Serb Government in Belgrade, is dependant upon their essentially dealing with the history of the massacres, atoning for it and arresting the war criminals. And that was the major issue that I dealt with in Sarajevo.
The Tri-Presidency, particularly the Muslim and Croat presidents, were very, very concerned that the United States and the European allies maintain their our pressure on Belgrade and on these Bosnian Serb forces and elements in Banja Luka to make sure that both Karadzic and Mladic are brought to justice. And the position of the United States is that this must happen, that there is no possibility of a normal relationship with either country until that happens.
And I'd be happy to go into any aspect of that with you. I would just say that, as more of an editorial note, Bosnia-Herzegovina has made a lot of progress over the last 10 years, if you measure it from date. It's a country that does have a future. And while there are many problems remaining there, there is a foundation of multi-ethnicity, which is a very important example to Kosovo as the Kosovars struggle with their problems in Kosovo.
I said again what we have said previously, is that the United States believes that 2005 should be a year of change and a year of decision in Kosovo. As you know, Secretary Rice has said, and I have said as well in my congressional testimony, that the United States believes that we should now be supporting a diplomatic process that if everything works right, if everything works right on the assessments process, could lead to final status talks by this autumn. And Ambassador Kai Eide, the Norwegian Ambassador to NATO has been appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan to lead the review of the standards this summer. He starts work Monday morning in Pristina. We fully support him. And if his review is successful, if he advises and the UN believes that it's time to go to final status talks, the U.S. will support that; final status talks could begin as early as this autumn. The U.S. would plan to be very actively engaged throughout this process. If you look at the history of the last 10 years, given the fact that the United States has credibility in all these countries, it's important that we be at the table. And so in Kosovo, I laid out that schedule and laid out our strong hope that, because we believe the status quo in Kosovo is not sustainable, that this diplomatic process will unfold this year.
I spent the majority of my time, however, in Kosovo not with the majority population, but with the minority population, with the Kosovar Serbs. And I did that purposefully to signal our strong concern that the Kosovar Serb minority be protected and that the Roma and Turkic and Bosniak minorities be protected and that the majority population, the Kosovar Albanians while we very much, of course, have a good relationship with them and work closely with them, they have to take matters into their own hands to be tolerant of the minorities and to create a place Kosovo where the minorities are accepted and protected. Serbs have lived in Kosovo for hundreds of years and they have a right to live there.
And so I met with the Kosovar Serb religious leadership with Bishop Teodosje and Father Sava. I met with the Kosovar Serb political opposition. And most importantly, we went down to Obilic. Obilic, of course, is a place with great resonance for Serbs. It's a place where as everyone knows in the 14th century, it was the great Serb battle against the Ottomans. It's an exceedingly important date. I went there because it's now a majority Albanian community, almost exclusively. But there's a small pocket of elderly Serbs living four or five houses living amidst this Albanian a Muslim majority. And these people had all their homes burned to the ground in March 2004 and they were driven from their homes. They've recently returned because the homes have been rebuilt. There are elderly people, they have no money. Their kids are off in Serbia because that's where the jobs are. They don't feel safe. They feel isolated. But they're there because that's where their home has always been. They've always lived in Kosovo. And I met with these four families and said to the press that was with us that these people had a right to live in Kosovo, too. And any successful negotiation for the future of Kosovo had to hinge on multi-ethnicity and tolerance for ethnic rights and that we were going to support that principle throughout these negotiations.
Finally, we were in Belgrade on Wednesday evening and Thursday and met with the President and Prime Minister and Defense Minister and most leading officials and there we had fascinating conversations. And I did announce Secretary Rice's decision I think Sean put out a statement on this yesterday that we are now certifying Serbian compliance with our legislation that would allow U.S. aid, roughly over $10 million, to now proceed. And it had been suspended by Secretary Powell's decision a very good decision in January of this year because of Serb non-compliance on the war crimes issue. Since then, the Serbs have facilitated the transfer of 12 indicted war criminals to The Hague for trial. It's a very impressive record. It's more progress in three to four months than we've seen in 10 years. And because of that, Secretary Rice felt it was time to re-commence U.S. aid.
So I told the Serb President and Prime Minister that yesterday and we announced it yesterday in Belgrade. I also told him, however, that there will be no normal security and military and political relationship until Ratko Mladic is arrested and sent to The Hague. We had a long conversation. I had a long conversation with the President, Prime Minister and others. It was my very strong impression from that conversation that the Serb leadership is now determined to find Mladic and to arrest him and to turn him over to The Hague.
It would be a dramatic signal of Serbia's willingness to put its past behind the bloody past of the '90s behind it if Mladic can be turned over before the 11th of July because he was, of course, as you remember, in Srebrenica that day 10 years ago and he ordered the execution of those 8,000 people. We fully expect that Serbia will meet its obligations. These are obligations that they signed up to in the Dayton Accords 10 years ago. Theyre obligations of which they have been reminded many, many times. And I reiterated a longstanding U.S. position that we will not support Serbia for membership in Partnership for Peace until this step is taken.
I also said that while it's less clear where Karadzic might be than, say, where Mladic might be, that we felt it was very, very important that Mladic that Karadzic also be arrested, whether it's by the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, whether it's by the Serb government, or wherever else he may be hiding, whether he's in who knows where he is, but that we were not going to forget about Karadzic either. And these are important, important, symbols in a Muslim community throughout the Balkans, that the Serb population is willing to put the past behind them. The arrest of these two individuals is very important.
So, that was a main issue for my meeting in Belgrade. All in all, I would say this, that these three countries in the Balkan region remain critical to the stability of Europe because if our largest strategic objective is a peaceful, secure, united Europe, which it is and has been since the fall of the Berlin Wall, that objective can not be attained as long as the Balkans are unstable and as long as the Balkans are not connected to the rest of Europe.
And what I outlined in Sarajevo, Pristina and Belgrade was that if they can deal with these very tragic examples from their history, if Mladic and Karadzic can end up in The Hague, if there can be ethnic reconciliation in Kosovo, then there's every reason to believe that these countries have a future with the European Union and a future with NATO and that they can enjoy the advantages that all their neighbors have now from around the Balkans and Central Europe. And I believe, having been to these three countries this week, there's a lot of hope that in each of these places, they can move the situation their situations forward diplomatically this year in a dramatic way that would improve their lot, improve their situations, and also bring greater stability to the Balkans.
And I told them the United States intends to be centrally engaged diplomatically; that my trip, as Secretary Rice asked me to take, was an example of that; that I would be back at the end of the summer; that if final status talks do begin, the United States will appoint a special negotiator, as will the European Union, to help lead those negotiations; that we understand, as Americans, that the great things that were done 10 years ago by people like Richard Holbrooke and Chris Hill, they were done they were possible because of American credibility and American influence; and, that we understand, as part of the equation, that Secretary Rice is determined that we play that role this year and next year, as well.
Enough said. I'm happy to answer any questions you've got. Yes.
QUESTION: (All at once.)
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: AP first. He's my old friend. He's not my old friend, he's my friend, of long standing. (Laughter)
QUESTION: At the end of the briefing, could we ask two non-Balkan questions?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: On which subject?
QUESTION: Only two?
QUESTION: All right. You want to ask a couple more?
QUESTION: Dont sell the store.
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: On which subjects?
QUESTION: Syria and the IAEA meeting that starts Monday as it may relate to Saudi Arabia.
QUESTION: And Iran. You just got back from
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I'm afraid I've been away for a whole week. I'm afraid that on those two issues, I'd have to do something on background with you. If you'd prefer to do it on the record on Iran, I could do it on the record.
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Okay, basically, trip.
QUESTION: Is that your question?
QUESTION: No, no, no, thats not it. Do you think that the Serbs are convinced that Mladic is in Serbia and not elsewhere? I mean, you said yesterday that his days may be numbered.
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: His days are definitely
QUESTION: That's quite a his days are definitely numbered. Could you flesh that out?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: His days are numbered because what we do know is that, for many years this is a 10-year story. He disappeared 10 years ago. We do know that for many years he was protected by elements of the Serb military, for many years.
QUESTION: Elements of the Serb
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Of the Serb military. Now, I'm not saying these the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff are doing this, but there's no question, as a former military officer, he was sequestered at some of their facilities and he was supported by them. We know that. I think we don't the United States does not know where he is now. If we knew where he was, obviously, that would settle the question. I don't know if the Serb government knows exactly where he is, but there's every reason to believe that the Serb government has the message that their future relations with the United States and Europe depend on settling this score and settling this question from the past. And I was given a very strong impression in my meetings in Belgrade that they have taken this message to heart. Twelve people have been returned in three months time. That's 12 more than in the last nine years last 10 years, to The Hague, and that they are determined to find Mladic, arrest him and extradite him to The Hague. They're determined to do it. Given that, given this very dramatic change over the last three or four months in Belgrade and given the fact that there are a lot of people looking for him, including NATO and other elements of the international community, we believe his days are numbered and he ought to give himself up and he ought to go to The Hague. If he doesn't give himself up, he should be found and captured, arrested, and extradited to The Hague. He's got a choice, but it's imperative that this happen.
QUESTION: Have you heard reports that he's in Russia?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I have not heard such reports.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on that?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Yeah.
QUESTION: Just you said that it was the government's determination that makes you believe that and that a lot of people are looking for him, but could you give us a couple other practical examples of other ways they may have stepped up real, practical, on-the-ground efforts
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Yeah.
QUESTION: to find him that they weren't doing before, despite all the U.S. pressure?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Let's put it this way. For the last we've been at this for 10 years. Europe, the United States, Canada, people of the region. And there was very little and for many years, no cooperation with the government in Belgrade on this issue. There's now extensive discussions, extensive cooperation, extensive efforts being made. And obviously, I can't go into all the efforts that are being made, but I can say what I've said. And that is that we believe there's a seriousness and purpose on the part of the Government in Belgrade. We believe that they are intent on getting this done and their track record over the last three months gives us confidence that they have made a strategic decision that the indicted war criminals on their soil should be turned over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. And that was that is a positive turn and that's why the Secretary made her decision on certification. But we told them, despite this certification, which allows more than $10 million in U.S. aid now to go to Belgrade and various programs, we cannot support you for NATO's Partnership for Peace, which they desperately want to have, until the Mladic arrest occurs.
QUESTION: Do you know if they would find anything, like the Pakistani Government, in going to the villages, going to the towns and talking to the people?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: You'll have to ask them about that. I know that we've seen we have seen a dramatic turnaround in the efforts, in the specific efforts, that they have made.
QUESTION: You said his days are definitely numbered. I guess the question is
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: It's only a question of time before he's captured.
QUESTION: I guess it's a question of you know, were you're talking (inaudible).
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: Put it this way. I cannot imagine a scenario where this where, because he's still at large, we forget about this issue and we drop this issue off our diplomatic agenda. We won't. And because of that, there will be continued pressure on the authorities in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serbs in Bosnia-Herzegovina, and in the Serb Government, on both Mladic and Karadzic, to bring them to justice. And so, we are not willing to foresee a future where these two individuals remain at large. And by the way, we are making our own effort NATO to locate these individuals.
QUESTION: Well, you said that you (inaudible) know where he is, so how can you be so confident (inaudible)?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I can't speak for the Serb Government as to everything they know about where I said we don't know where he is exactly, which is true. The United States Government does not know where either of these individuals are, but we, of course, have our own efforts to find them, which are of long standing. And we're impressed by the increase in the major increase in efforts in the region to find him.
QUESTION: Can I ask you to elaborate still further on what your impression is of what the government is thinking? I think that you are saying they get it, they get the fact that we are not going to have decent relations with the government unless they do this. But now they have a political decision to make; do they go and get Mladic they're debating amongst themselves, do we go and get Mladic so that we can have good relations? Are they at that stage? Or have they signaled to you in your meeting, "Yeah, we're going to go and get him. We don't know exactly when, but we are," and that's why you can be so confident in this?
UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I think two things have changed, to respond to your question. You're right to assert that the strategic calculus has changed for the Serb leadership in Belgrade. And until early 2005, early this year, there had been no cooperation for 10 years. Now, there's been a flood of cooperation because they understand, I think they have now understood, that the consistent pressure from the United States and many of our European allies was not going to relent, that we really meant business, that there would be no NATO future until these war criminals were turned over. And now, we've seen 12 people turned over and I have a distinct impression they've made this calculation about Mladic.
But secondly, what happened this is important as a part of the news story and it was really palpable in the Balkans the release of this videotape 10 days ago has had an impact, a big, big impact on the average Serb. This I don't know if you all know about this, but there was a videotape released from Milosevic's trial by the prosecutors which was made public on Serb television, I think, about nine days eight or nine days ago. And it shows events just before Srebrenica, late June 1995, when a Serb military unit not a Bosnian-Serb military unit Serb military unit called the Scorpions took six young Muslim men into a forested area, executed four of them, shot them in the backs, made the other two basically dig a grave for their bodies and then executed those two.
This videotape has shocked the Serbs because for the last decade, there's been denial, outright denial and revisionism in Serbia, as well as among the Bosnian-Serbs that these events ever took place. And recent public opinion polls before the video showed that only a third of the people of Serbia believe that Srebrenica, the massacres, had ever happened. And so now you have a situation where the President of Serbia came out and said he was shocked and ashamed and that he would be in Srebrenica on July 11th to represent the Serb people. The Crown Prince has decided to go and the President of Serbia and Montenegro actually decided to go and the President of Serbia has decided to go there are two entities along with the Crown Prince Alexander.
Prime Minister Kostunica then ordered the arrest of the men on the videotape who had actually done the murders. They found them and arrested them and this has had a major impact. And so, we're beginning to see a change public pressure on the government, as well as the Banja Luka authorities, to face up to their history. And that's been a very the release of the videotape has been very beneficial to all of us who believe that we have to get these two guys in The Hague.
QUESTION: Just a follow-up, if I may. You had put down a marker for July 11th saying it would be a great signal if they do it by then. Is that U.S. pressure for them to do it? I don't know if you actually said that yesterday we didn't
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Call it what I was asked in Belgrade yesterday by a Serb journalist, "is that a deadline?" I said, "there's no deadline." They have the deadline was really ten years ago. They signed the Dayton Accords. There are war crimes provisions in the Dayton Accords, and so they have an obligation to turn over all indicted war criminals to The Hague. So we would like that to be done as soon as possible. Tomorrow would be best. July 11th, by July 11th, obviously, would allow the Serbs to position themselves to, in effect, say to the Muslim community throughout the Balkans, "we reject the policies of ten years ago. We reject the war crimes." And that would be a powerful signal, if the Serbs could send that signal. Very powerful.
QUESTION: Can you clarify something about the certification does yesterday's certification by Secretary Rice apply only on $10 million or the whole package from the fiscal 2005?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Tamir, it applies to about $10 million
QUESTION: $10 million that
QUESTION: Because the whole package is 73.6.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We had withheld that Secretary Powell had in January when he decertified Serbia. We turned that spigot back on, but is there another tranche of funds, Tamir, that
STAFF: There's nothing additional that's not already obligated (inaudible).
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There's your answer. Yeah. David.
QUESTION: Nick, you seemed to be
QUESTION: Isn't that
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's rough it's a little over we can get you the exact figure. It's a little over $10 million.
QUESTION: What happened to the rest of this 73.6?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have assistance to Serbia in several different categories several different programs. And so the $10 million 10 million-plus figure is the total of different efforts that we've been made, they were all frozen. And now we've unfrozen them to, in essence, recognize the progress that has been made on the war crimes issue by the Serb Government over the last couple of months.
QUESTION: You are obviously telescoping this process on Kosovo with standards and the status business, trying to push this forward. Even, I think, by the implication of some of your comments, you were pointing toward an independent Kosovo? Is this something politically tolerable to Serbia? It's one thing to give up Mladic but can they live with that?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have never said we, the United States that we favor any specific outcome to final status talks on Kosovo should they take place because we don't believe that a decision of that magnitude what is the future of Kosovo? Will it be independent? Will it be autonomous? Will the status quo be maintained? we don't believe that that can be imposed on them by outsiders like us. So what we are trying to suggest is, if the standards review this summer that begins Monday morning by Ambassador Eide under UN auspices, if that is positive and sufficiently positive then to call for final status talks, then what we would do is be very active in those talks so that the Serb Government and the Kosovar Serbs and the other minorities and the majority population Kosovar Albanians could sit down and they could then agree on what their future is, and that's our position. We have not said that we favor any specific outcome because that would be inappropriate.
QUESTION: I have a question on Bosnia?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: But we do believe this. That the status quo is unsustainable, that going back to '98 and '99 was unsustainable, that partition is out of the question. It's not as if we're without views we have a lot of views. And we are pushing this process
QUESTION: Partition of Kosovo?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Absolutely. Yes.
QUESTION: On Bosnia. You talked about, you know, that they've had problems and there's a foundation of multi
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Multi-ethnicity.
QUESTION: Of multi-ethnicity. But last summer, when you went with Secretary Powell, there seemed to be like a renewed kind of splitting of the three factions and even when, you know, even when he was talking to the kids and things like that, like that there was a sense that they were breaking apart again. I mean, can you talk about, you know, the three factions and how you see what's going on there in terms of multi-ethnic relations rather than multi-ethnicity?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, I'm happy to. What was really striking to me from the visit to Sarajevo and we met with the Tri-Presidency and met with a lot of other people is that you have a real effort being made by the Muslim, Bosniak and Croat authorities to move that country forward. And to do all the things you know, Dayton gave them a bifurcated state. And what they've been trying to do since then is, for instance, take the multiple military commands and channel them into one and take the multiple police commands and channel them into one.
And I sensed very good faith on the part of the Bosniak, i.e., Muslim, and Croat authorities of the Tri-Presidency and frankly, relatively bad faith, on the Bosnian-Serb leadership. I did not go to Banja Luka this time. I'm certainly am going to go next time. I met with the Bosnian-Serb Foreign Minister, Mr. Ivanic. I felt he dodged most of my questions. And that was the impression of the other members of my delegation.
And if you look at the leading issues there right now, there are three leading issues. Defense reform. Can they create one defense ministry and one chain of command? The Bosnian Serbs have been dragging their feet on that. On police reform, which is the major U.S. and EU objective, the Bosnian Serbs have definitely been blocking progress and it is the one community that has not had a good record on multi-ethnicity. The leadership in Banja Luka has not been helpful on Karadzic, Mladic. When President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica made their very courageous statements after the videotape was released in Belgrade, there was silence in Banja Luka. Silence. There wasn't one word. And those were Bosnian Serb forces, of course, who carried out the massacre at Srebrenica ten years ago.
And so we don't believe they have stepped up to their historic responsibility to face the atrocities of the past and to try to build bridges. And I had that very distinct feeling in Sarajevo and I told the Serb leadership this when I got to Belgrade. I said, you know, we hear different things from Belgrade than we're hearing from Banja Luka and it's striking to us and it would be very helpful if the authorities in Banja Luka could be more interested in building a better country and a more tolerant country.
MR. CASEY: Nick, I'm afraid we're getting we're trying to keep you on your schedule so we've got to close very quick.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay. I'll try to close out.
MR. CASEY: Why don't you do one more on this and then take your couple of background questions because theyve been waiting.
QUESTION: I have one short question.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Ladies first.
QUESTION: Is American administration American government plan, in effect, potentially against the government in Banja Luka if Karadzic and Mladic are not (inaudible)?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, what we have you know, we have consistently pointed the finger at the governing authorities in Banja Luka on the question of Karadzic and we've said they are the ones who ought to know where their compatriot is. He's a Bosnian Serb. His family lives in the Republika Srpska. His friends live there. A lot of those people in Banja Luka who are the governing authorities are linked to him and therefore they have a responsibility to find him, and that we're not going to have a normal relationship with them until that happens. We have an outstanding diplomat in Banja Luka, Diana Brown, and she's trying every day to force these issues but it's a very frustrating process.
QUESTION: A follow-up. You've been around the horn with both of these guys, Karadzic and Mladic (inaudible). What's the status of NATO and the international efforts on the ground to go after them, not the fine talk we're all for him and it's only a matter of days and all that stuff but
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There's a continuing
QUESTION: Is anybody really doing anything, going out and looking?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There's a continuing effort by both NATO and the European Union forces in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as throughout the region, to try to find him. Now, you know, like all these other situations we've seen around the world, if a person has money and if a person has connections and if a person has a network of people who want to hide him in a mountainous area like the Balkans, it's fairly easy to hide somebody. And so that's why it's so important for the authorities in Banja Luka to put their best foot forward. They surely could help authorities to find out where Karadzic is. And that's also the answer, obviously, on Mladic, who we believe is probably some place in Serbia.
QUESTION: Okay. Just a short question about Croatian Government. I don't know if you talked to anybody from Croatian Government during your trip.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I did not go to Zagreb.
QUESTION: Yeah, maybe you talked with somebody. What do you think about Croatia and chance to get EU because of General Ante Gotovina, who is at large
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I can tell you this. The United States has told the Croatians that we will not support Croatia for NATO membership until General Gotovina is arrested and sent to The Hague. He's the third war criminal, prominent war criminal. They're in the membership action plan for NATO and we've said we will not support you for NATO membership until General Gotovina is arrested. And I know the European Union has taken a very hard, principled stance as well and we support the EU. We support them.
QUESTION: You seem very confident that the victim communities will regard the capture and transport to The Hague of these individuals as a form of justice. Will they?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The victim communities?
QUESTION: Victim communities. Will they regard this as justice? Because
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, when I talked to the Bosnian Muslim Tri-President and when I talked to the Kosovar Albanian Muslim leaders and population in Pristina, they made it very clear to me these are important, important events for them and they think these people must face trial. It's very important for them. Will it wipe away all of the atrocities, the impact of the atrocities? No, it won't. Of course not. And there are thousands of people in the Balkans 250,000 people dead, two and a half million people lost their homes in the '90s. There is tragedy to go around. But these are very highly symbolic acts for the Muslim communities.
QUESTION: But a trial in The Hague would accomplish that symbolism?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, it would be a very powerful and positive event for the Muslim community to see that the people who murdered so many of their compatriots were brought to justice, yes. That's my very strong feeling and I think it's the strong feeling of all of us who have worked on this for the last decade.
QUESTION: Just an ignorant question, perhaps, but what is the maximum penalty that a trial a conviction in The Hague would impose?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Life imprisonment.
QUESTION: Life imprisonment. So that's my question. Do you think they'd regard life imprisonment for these people as
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You'll have to I didn't get into that with them. But all I can tell you is that we're strong supporters of the war crimes tribunal and there's very little doubt in our mind about the guilt of Ratko Mladic. It's on camera. You remember this from July '95. You remember him personally directing on camera the massacre at Srebrenica. So we believe he needs to go to The Hague and stand trial. And I've got to leave.
QUESTION: We're making you late, Nick.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Last one, very quick.
QUESTION: I have a question and Im from the region. On Kosovo, you excluded status quo, return to status before '99 and partition of Kosovo.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Absolutely. Right.
QUESTION: Serbian Government doesn't seem ready to sign any changes of frontiers of Serbia, which includes Kosovo right now, and
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's why there needs to be a negotiation.
QUESTION: Yeah. And then Albanians, they don't want anything else but independence. Where do you see space for negotiations and for the final status and
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There
QUESTION: I'm sorry. What will be the role how do you see the role of the United States?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The role of the United States will be to be very actively engaged every day on this process. We'll have a special if we get if the final status talks begin next autumn it's not a 100 percent certainty, that's up to the United Nations the United States will appoint a special negotiator, Secretary Rice will, and we'll be fundamentally engaged. We have three very strong diplomatic missions in the region. Each of them will be involved, especially Phil Goldberg, our Chief of Mission in Pristina, an outstanding diplomat.
The reason why you have a negotiation is because all these parties have diametrically opposed positions on the future of Kosovo; and rather than leave the situation to continue as it is, we believe that could lead to further violence of the type that we saw in March 2004. To avoid that, to avoid people taking up the gun as the answer, which people in the Balkans did in the '90s, they have to have an international negotiation, a process that would let them adjudicate their differences peacefully. That's why we're signaling, as we have been over the last month, a strengthening of the United States diplomatic effort in the entire region. We are pushing diplomacy, not use of force, obviously.
QUESTION: Is independence on the table?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There's no nothing's on the table now because no one has sat down at the table. I went I talked to them, but I didn't talk to them together. I went to their capitals and talked to them. So they have to get to the table first and see what they put on the table.
QUESTION: You may not be able to get through these because you've been dealing with other matters. There are credible reports that Syria is plotting the assassination of Lebanese leaders and that Syria is renewing its military intelligence presence. Have you heard anything about either one?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think I would let my friend, Ambassador Assistant Secretary of State Sean McCormack, deal with that question when he briefs today.
QUESTION: Nick, just real quick, your meetings with Iran, meetings within the (inaudible) on Iran. Is it how is the administration feeling in terms where these talks on Iran are going? Do you think that there should be some timelines? There's been a lot of discussion about a civil nuclear program for Iran. Is that a redline for you? Or there would be verifications put in place that
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We support the EU-3 negotiating process. I think the Secretary made that clear when she spoke to you the other day after she met with Foreign Minister Fischer. My meeting on Monday was one in a regular series of meetings that we have with the EU-3. I talk with them just about every day. I had conversations this morning on the phone. But this is there's nothing dramatic here. It's part of the diplomatic continuum.
We support the process, support the EU-3. Our support is based on an outcome that will produce a cessation and dismantlement of all of Iran's nuclear fuel cycle activities and therefore we have said in the past and continue to believe that any outcome that we give the Iranians, you know, some kind of access to the nuclear fuel cycle activity is, of course, something that we're not interested in.
MR. CASEY: Thank you, Nick.
Released on June 13, 2005