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Press Roundtable at U.S. Mission to NATO

Under Secretary for Political Affairs, R. Nicholas Burns
Brussels, Belgium
June 30, 2006

[In Progress]

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I’m happy to talk about anything that’s on your mind, actually.

PRESS: Let’s start with Iran. The Iranians evidently rejected a request that they give their answer by the 5th of July. There is a meeting pending with Laranjani and Solana apparently next week. What do you make of this latest rejection?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: The G8 spoke very clearly yesterday, in fact I think Mark will give you, if you haven’t seen it, a copy of the statement of the Ministers on Iran yesterday. But we spoke very clearly.

The G8 is unified and the P5+1, the group that authorized the offer to Iran is unified. We all believe that negotiations make sense, that Iran should accept the offer of the P5+1 to come to negotiations. We are serious about having negotiations that would center on the question of Iran’s nuclear program.

There is one condition that Iran has to meet and that is it’s got to suspend all of its enrichment related activities. We’ve seen lots of different statements from lots of different Iranian political figures. We are waiting for the authoritative channel which is the Laranjani channel to Solana. As you know there will be a meeting here in this city next week where we expect and hope that Laranjani will give us the answer to the offer that was made back on June 1st for whether or not Iran would like to sit down with the United States and other countries and have a negotiation on nuclear issues. The G8 could not have been more clear yesterday.

There was also a meeting of the P5+1 political directors two nights ago in Moscow, and I can say there is absolute unity among all the countries – Russia, China, the United States, and the European countries. We reaffirmed the offer, we reaffirmed our belief this is a good offer, and it’s now up to Iran to decide and it’s high time, frankly, that we had a response from the Iranian government.

PRESS: Could you understand it if they weren’t in a position to give you an answer then? How long would they have?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: President Bush said last week, they’ve had a lot of time to decide this, to look at this offer.

This is not a complicated offer. The offer that was made to them is quite straightforward, and we think it’s time that they respond. The statement says the G8 countries are disappointed that there hasn’t been a response yet, so we fully expect Minister Laranjani to come with a response.

PRESS: If there were no response would that have consequences in terms of [inaudible]?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I think what will happen is, in either case the P5 and German Foreign Ministers will meet July 12th here in Europe to assess what Laranjani has told Javier Solana, and then will look forward to St. Petersburg and to help to make some essential decisions about what direction we should go in.

We always thought this was a process of weeks, not months. We’re looking forward to a clear Iranian response to this very straightforward offer.

PRESS: Kosovo. Where do you see the [inaudible]?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: We have a Contact Group meeting today here in Brussels on Kosovo with Martti Ahtisaari. We’ll be hosting that contact group meeting later on this afternoon. We intend to conclude it by 6:00 p.m. so that all of us can watch the Germany-Argentina –

PRESS: It’s 5:00.


PRESS: It’s 5:00 local.

VOICE: You’re scheduled to finish at 4:30.

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: The meeting’s not go any longer than two hours.

PRESS: You like baseball, huh?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I love football, too. The German Political Director, Michael Schaefer, and I are going to sit in front of a television set with a couple of beers and we hope that Germany will – I’m for Germany in this match. Anyway, this is a very important –

PRESS: [Inaudible]. [Laughter].

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I’m really for Germany. I’ve followed Germany since 1973, since Beckenbauer’s days.

PRESS: A very very controversial statement. [Laughter].

PRESS: Not diplomatic.

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I’m a fan of the Bundes League. I’m a great fan of Bayernmuenchen. I have to root for Germany.

Anyway, this is a very important time in the Kosovo policy. We’re midway through 2006. We are confirmed in our judgment that 2006 must be the year of decision for Kosovo and we believe that the final status talks must conclude this year and that the international community and the people of Kosovo and of course the government of Serbia and the Kosovar leaders in Pristina must all decide on the future of Kosovo. So Martti Ahtisaari is here today to give us a status report and a look ahead and give us a sense of the diplomatic choreography in the next couple of months. It’s going to be quite intensive. And to give us a sense of what remaining issues need to be resolved before there can be a final judgment on Kosovo’s final status.

I would say two things. It’s very important that we now accelerate our efforts to produce negotiations that will be fair and decisive and produce an outcome first.

Second point, it’s very important that the Kosovar Albanian leaders rededicate themselves to create conditions on the ground to protect Serb minority rights. The churches, the historical and patrimonial sites that are so important to the Serb people and have been since the 14th Century. And we saw a murder of a Kosovar Serb last week. There is a lot of unrest in the northern part of Kosovo in and around Mitrovica. It’s a absolutely important that the Kosovar Albanian leadership step up, increase, improve its adherence to the standards that have to be met to protect Serb rights because Serbs have a right to live in Kosovo.

PRESS: Do you fear that that murder was ethnically motivated?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: I don’t know enough about that particular murder to say that. I don’t want to be irresponsible. All I know is that given the political environment any time there’s a murder like that, people, not me, but people on the ground jump to conclusions. Therefore you want to make every effort to tamp down and stem that kind of violence.

Prime Minister Ceku was in Washington last week and met with Secretary Rice, I met with him, and we like him and we support much of what he’s doing because he’s tried to strengthen the standards that have to be met to protect minority rights. But clearly, additional efforts must be made.

There is no guaranteed outcome here. People have to earn their way forward in these negotiations and that was a message that was given to the Kosovar Albanians.

Third, Serbia is in a unique place. There’s no question that all of us want to reach out to Serbia and to communicate our interest in seeing the Serbs integrated eventually with NATO and the European Union, and to see the Serbs emerge from this very difficult year where Montenegro has now separated itself, where they have to face the final status talks on Kosovo. And we would like to send a positive message of support to the Serb people and the Serb government that we do want to engage with them.

Secretary Rice has invited President Tadic to come to Washington and Prime Minister Kostunica as well. They’ll be coming I think for individual meetings in the next two weeks to Washington. You’re going to see a palpable increase in America’s diplomatic involvement. Secretary Rice has been quite focused on this of late in talks with European Ministers. She’ll now engage the Serb leadership directly. She met Mr. Ceku last week. Frank Wisner, our Special Emissary, is here today. He’ll be in the region shortly.

So the U.S. feels a need to be very actively involved. This is a very difficult couple of months coming up.

So the challenge for us at NATO and the EU, if I can say that as a non-member of the EU, is to reach out to the Serbs and give the Serbs a sense that they do have a future with both of our institutions and Serbia’s place is in Europe. The Serbs need that positive signal as they reflect on these questions of sovereignty and of Kosovo and Montenegro.

On the other hand the Serbs have their own challenge and that is to meet the test of democracy and reform. It was not positive to say in Pristina the other day, to make the statements that Kosovo is for Serbs, or Kosovo is part of Serbia forever. Not after 1997 and ’98 and ’99, after what took place in those years in Kosovo. Not after the period of the last seven years when we’ve tried to right the balance and preserve the rights of the majority as well in Kosovo.

So the Serbs, while we have a responsibility to welcome them as part of our future, they have to meet the test of democracy, of reform, and they have to say the right things to reach out to the Kosovar Albanians.

PRESS: Can I ask just briefly how far, it might be a calculation of the other members of the contact group, that in order to win Russian backing potentially for an independent Kosovo, that there may be some sort of statement or [inaudible]. Given that Vladimir Putin has said that if Kosovo becomes independent it makes sense for the other --

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: We disagree completely with this notion that somehow Kosovo will be a precedent for what happens in Abkhazia. The two situations are entirely unrelated. I think there is a very strong view here in Europe as there is in the United States that we reject that analogy. We reject the link that some make that an action for final status on Kosovo will become a precedent for what should happen in South Ossetia or in Abkhazia.

We have to remember what happened here. There was a great human rights crime, in fact war crimes took place in Kosovo. More than a million people had their rights denied. There was a war fought over it. The United Nations effectively put Serb sovereignty into abeyance. The United Nations stepped forward with a Security Council Resolution that said that Kosovo’s final status would be questioned. And the United Nations Security Council Resolution that basically governs what we do internationally in terms of sovereignty in Kosovo and the final status talks are all about sovereignty.

We don’t ever question Georgia’s sovereignty in either Abkhazia or South Ossetia and will never question it, and we stand for the territorial integrity of Georgia.

The two situations are entirely separate and different and we don’t accept the argument that they’re analogous.

PRESS: Can I just ask you, I know it’s not the focus of your trip, but on NATO and Ukraine [inaudible]. There are concerns that there’s very low-level support for NATO membership in Ukraine, 20 percent according to some polls. And that the reform speed isn’t really going as fast as it should.

Do you share those concerns? Do you think that 2008 is still viable for membership?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: NATO and Ukraine have had a longstanding relationship, in fact, a unique relationship. The NATO-Ukraine Commission created many years ago. So we’re satisfied that given the strategic importance of Ukraine, given its size, it’s correct that NATO has this unique relationship with Ukraine. Now I think it’s really up to the Ukrainian government, the new government, to let NATO know what kind of future it wishes to have with NATO.

NATO’s doors are open to Ukraine, but as President Bush said here in February of 2005, NATO is a performance-based organization, so while the doors are open you have to meet the conditions for membership in the Partnership for Peace of the Membership Action Plan, the MAP program, or the members itself, and it will be up to Ukraine to define that. It’s up to the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian people to define that.

So I think it’s fair to say that NATO’s ready and willing, but Ukraine now needs to determine what its own interests are and what it would like to do.

PRESS: As far as the [inaudible] appreciation of how things are going at the moment, do you –

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: It’s very early days because they just formed the coalition. In fact they haven’t even named all the Ministers as far as I understand it. So I don’t want to anticipate what that government will want to do, but I can tell you from an American point of view we have always felt it’s very important to have a unique and close relationship between NATO and Ukraine, and this is really going to be in the hands of the Ukrainians to determine the future, because we Americans are very open to a bigger relationship with Ukraine on a performance basis, meaning they have to meet the requirements at each stage as they go along, and that’s normal. That’s true of any country that has a relationship with NATO.

Can I say one more thing on Kosovo? I’m not quite sure I made this point.

There have been a lot of key points, ’98, the atrocities against the Albanians; ’99 the occasion of going in; June ’99 forward, we set up the new period. Kosovo’s been in a state of some instability since June ’99 until now. 2006 is going to be a year of great change. The negotiations, the foundations have been laid for these negotiations. You’re now going to see in the next six months the intensification of these negotiations.

So our message is both sides have to be ready. The Kosovar Albanians need to take their responsibilities and step up their commitment to standards. The Kosovar Serbs have to be allowed to participate. They have not been allowed to participate in the negotiations by the Serb government. The Serb government needs to make a decision that it’s going to be at the table, it’s going to negotiate fairly.

So they have challenges to meet and we have great confidence in Ahtisaari that he’s got the right program for these negotiations. And the U.S. you’re going to see very intensely involved, including Secretary Rice meeting with Kostunica and Tadic in the next two weeks.

Released on July 3, 2006

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