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 You are in: Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs > Bureau of Public Affairs: Press Relations Office > Press Releases (Other) > 2005 > November
Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesman
Washington, DC
November 21, 2005

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns On Renewed U.S. Commitment to the Balkans

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(3:55 p.m. EST)

MR. CASEY: Afternoon, everyone. Welcome to briefing two on the day. As you know, we have Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns here with us. He'll be talking to you today about the ongoing activities commemorating the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords. It's a very significant moment for that country and for the region as a whole.

Mr. Under Secretary.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. As you know, Secretary Rice will be hosting the Bosnian Tri-Presidency tomorrow, the three presidents of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the political party leaders. She will start tomorrow morning with a ceremony in the C Street Lobby to honor our three colleagues who were killed on Mount Igman on August 19th, 1995: Bob Frasure, Nelson Drew and Joe Kruzel, and their wives and children will be there for that ceremony.

And then she will also sign several agreements with the Bosnian leadership. She will have a meeting with them about their efforts to proceed at constitutional reform. And then she's hosting a major lunch for the entire Bosnian delegation that's come here, which is quite large -- the Bosnian American community members of Congress, members of the Clinton team that put this agreement together.

And the objective of these two days is to both look forward -- look back, excuse me, at what was accomplished at the Dayton Accords ten years ago today, but also look forward to see how this country can modernize its constitution and take its place in NATO and the EU in the future.

In addition to those activities that Secretary Rice will participate in, tomorrow morning we're also convening a conference of religious leaders from the region, under the chairmanship of Rabbi Arthur Schneier of New York. He is someone who has, along with Cardinal McCarrick, the Archbishop of Washington, the Diocese of Washington, has been involved for a decade in working with religious leaders to try to promote tolerance and inter-religious communication in the Balkans. Cardinal McCarrick, unfortunately, could not make this meeting -- he's out of the country -- but he very much supports this initiative and we're very pleased that Rabbi Schneier will be here to lead this discussion of the Balkan religious leaders tomorrow.

Today, there was a conference at the U.S. Institute of Peace to mark the tenth anniversary. I think we've put the remarks on the website so I won't belabor them, but I made some remarks on behalf of the United States Government about the significance of Dayton and the significance of looking towards the future. And many other people -- Paddy Ashdown, Lord Ashdown, the High Representative, the three leaders themselves and others spoke, so I think you've got all that on the record. I won't go into that.

I would just say this. In addition to our hope to use the tenth anniversary of Dayton to promote further reconciliation and further progress in Bosnia-Herzegovina, this week also represents the beginning of the final status talks in Dayton. President Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish President, arrived in Pristina today to begin the first round of talks with the Kosovar leadership. He'll be talking to the Serb leadership in Belgrade as well. And these two initiatives are designed, we think, to make 2006 a year of decision on both of these questions: On Kosovo to produce a final outcome for the future of the country; on Bosnia-Herzegovina to modernize the institutions of the state so that on the tenth anniversary of Dayton they can decide to modernize Dayton.

And I think at the meeting tomorrow with Secretary Rice, I am confident that the political party leaders will agree that this process of constitutional reform is important and they will say they are dedicated to it. I just hosted a lunch for the leaders, a rather long lunch where we worked through all these issues. And we're not there yet. We don't have an agreement yet. They're still consulting with some of the other Bosnian leaders who did not make the trip from Bosnia itself. But I am confident that they are all heading in that direction, but the final discussions will be held with Secretary Rice tomorrow and she will be the one, hopefully, to make this agreement with them.

So I wanted to mention those two issues to you. I'll be happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Are you just looking for an agreement that says -- that dedicates to constitutional reform, which is a rather vague concept, or are you looking for a commitment to scrapping the tri-presidency and then having a goal of an institution with just one president?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Actually, the concept of constitutional reform is quite specific. It's not vague. And when I was in Sarajevo six weeks ago, they had just completed defense reform, the process of taking the two armies, two defense ministers, two Chiefs of Staff, forming one military. They had just agreed on a partial reform of the police services.

And when I proposed six weeks ago that they ought to agree to constitutional reform that was considered a rather radical notion because constitutional reform implies that the Dayton Accords are not immutable. It implies, specifically to the Bosnian Serbs, that there has to be a process of strengthening the state and not just the entities that, of course, received most of the power at the Dayton negotiations. And it assumes -- constitutional reform -- that there will be a narrowing from three presidents to one and assumes the development of a strong prime minister and it assumes the development of a strong speaker of the parliament and strong parliament. So it's very specific in that sense.

What we hope they'll agree to tomorrow is, as political party leaders in the country, that they will dedicate themselves to this process of constitutional reform, that they will pursue that over the coming months in advance of the 2006 elections. We would hope that's what they propose -- commit themselves tomorrow.

I don't think you'll find specific language in the agreement about the elements -- the type of presidency, the type of prime ministership, the type of parliament -- because that has to be worked out subsequent to any agreement tomorrow. That would have to be worked out in the parliament of Bosnia-Herzegovina, we hope, over the next few months.

But when they say they're agreeing to constitutional reform and to agree on the elements of it in the next few months, that is a very specific process. It's not vague at all. I just wanted to make that note.

QUESTION: You said there's an assumption there will be a single presidency. Is that the U.S. assumption or have they, by agreeing to constitutional reform, also taken that assumption on board?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: If they agree to constitutional reform tomorrow, that will be one of the key issues that will be at the heart of the subsequent negotiations and it will be the inevitable, we think, conclusion they'll have to draw from it.

It's interesting. If you talk to them, they all have a lot of different ideas of how you'd achieve a single presidency, a stronger parliament and a chief executive, a prime minister. They have a prime minister now but the prime minister doesn't have the powers of a normal European prime minister in a parliamentary system of government.

And so the question is not shall we create a single presidency; the question is more what type of presidency would you have and what type of structure. And I think if they do achieve this agreement tomorrow of devoting themselves to constitutional reform, the great debate will likely be which option, which variation of constitutional reform will they then subsequently agree to.


QUESTION: Do you have any further information about what sort of announcement might be made about their commitment to hunt down war criminals?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes. There will be from the Bosnian Serb leadership -- and there are two party leaders from the -- there are three party leaders in the Bosnian Serb community that were with us at lunch today who will be with us tomorrow. They have all agreed to issue a statement tomorrow declaring that Radovan Karadzic should give himself up, or should be arrested if he can't give himself up, and should be put on trial at The Hague for war crimes. And that is going to be a powerful statement.

They committed to me six weeks ago they'd do it. They told me again today that they would certainly do that tomorrow.

QUESTION: Issue the statement?



UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: But you know, that's quite -- that's a quite powerful thing because for ten years the Bosnian Serb community and leadership have been protecting Radovan Karadzic. He's been lionized. There's a support network in Republika Srpska that has been responsible for keeping him hidden for a number of years. So the fact that they would all come out -- the three political party leaders -- and declare together that he ought to be arrested, that's powerful. It's important and it's a step forward.

QUESTION: And that's more than you've gotten in your talks with them when you've traveled in the region --


QUESTION: -- and heard separately --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Very definitely. Very definitely. In fact, what has characterized my two visits to both Bosnia and to Serbia and Montenegro over the last five months is leaders will often tell you in private that they think that Karadzic and Mladic are hurting the Serb people and they're holding them back from Serbia and Montenegro or Bosnia becoming part of NATO and the EU. But they'll rarely say that in public and I don't believe we've ever had a group of people do it before.

So we think this is important and it's a point of departure. It's not sufficient. What would be sufficient would be actions by the Bosnian Serb leadership to actually find Karadzic and to turn him over to Mrs. Carla del Ponte. We hope that might happen as well.


QUESTION: What if you don't reach agreement by tomorrow?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, if we don't reach agreement, we will have tried. It will have been the right thing to have tried and we'll keep trying. But I think that these leaders, having come all the way to Washington, D.C., knowing that on the tenth anniversary of Dayton their conclusion should be that Dayton should be modernized, I believe that they'll come together tomorrow on a statement.


QUESTION: About a couple things you said this morning. I was just checking my notes. You referred this morning to both Karadzic and Mladic as being part of this --


QUESTION: -- commitment to be arrested. They, plural, must be handed over.



UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Now let me just break that down for you. We believe that Mladic has been hidden in Serbia and Montenegro and so NATO has taken the position now for the last three and a half years that it's the responsibility of the Government of Serbia and Montenegro to arrest him because we believe and everyone else believes that he's on their soil.

We also believe that Karadzic is probably most of the year hidden in the Republika Srpska. He may be going -- crossing into Montenegro, he may be crossing into Serbia and Montenegro itself -- Serbia itself, I should say -- but we believe that his support network is comprised of people from the Republika Srpska.

So NATO made the decision in May 2002 at the Reykjavik foreign ministers meeting that Serbia and Montenegro shall be responsible for turning over Mladic, and Republika Srpska and Bosnia-Herzegovina responsible for turning over Karadzic. And that is important because NATO has taken the position, led by the United States, that neither shall come into NATO's Partnership for Peace until these war criminals are apprehended.

QUESTION: So Bosnia can get in to Partnership for Peace if Mladic remains free and Serbia and Montenegro can get in if Karadzic remains free; is that what you're saying?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, theoretically yes, but in a perfect world both of these individuals will be arrested and sent to The Hague. We think it's a matter of time before this happens. These individuals can't hide forever and there is a bounty on their head. You know there's a reward for their arrest. Even Mrs. Karadzic issued a public statement several months ago asking her husband to give himself up.

I think it's beginning to dawn on a lot of the Serbs in both Serbia and Montenegro and Republika Srpska that their entire national ambition, which is to be integrated into Europe and into NATO, is being held up because of these two individuals. And it's ten years after Dayton, after all, and they've got to get on with the business of achieving a normal life and normal structure in their society and hopefully improved economies, and they really can't do that while these two war criminals are at large. So it's an important issue.

And obviously, if it's possible for NATO to find either of these individuals, NATO will. NATO's authority, of course, extends only to Bosnia-Herzegovina. NATO has no authority on the soil of, the territory of Serbia and Montenegro but NATO has mounted raids, several over the last few months, in an attempt to find Karadzic and NATO is poised to do that and has the capability of doing it. But it's going to be far easier, we think, for the citizens and the officials of Republika Srpska to find him because we have to assume at least some of them know where he is.

QUESTION: (inaudible) -- you said this morning. If I understood correctly, Bosnia's membership in the EU, you said, was conditional upon this constitutional reform. Is that absolutely in black and white? Paddy Ashdown didn't seem to put it in quite such terms.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: What we understand -- we've been assured by the European Union, first, that neither Serbia nor Bosnia will come into the European Union until the war criminals issue is finished. They've assured us of that. And I know the European Union believes that constitutional reform is a milestone along the way.

In fact, we've been a partner of the European Union in some of these discussions. The last round of these constitutional reform discussions were held in Brussels with the help of the EU before they moved to Washington. So over the weekend we had them here for two days and the leaders were all at the Mayflower Hotel working with us, and today they came over to the State Department. And I haven't finished my negotiations with them today. I'm going over to the Bosnian Embassy tonight to continue those negotiations. So it feels a lot like Dayton today, Dayton ten years ago.


QUESTION: And to what extent does also the U.S. and the EU have to change policy? The last ten years, Ashdown was running the country pretty much with his own power by decree. I mean, so far self-governance was not really the ruling principle. Does also the NATO and EU have given more kind of leverage and freedom to the government themselves?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think nearly all of us agree, and we've discussed with the European Union governments and with the EU itself, that the time has come to now gradually devolve -- have devolved -- many of the powers of the High Representative to the Government of Bosnia-Herzegovina itself. Paddy Ashdown, Lord Ashdown, has been a particularly effective High Representative. He is very well respected across Europe but also in our government for the job that he's done. He's widely perceived to have been one of the strongest, if not the strongest, high representatives in the last decade and we paid tribute to him today. I did in my remarks at the U.S. Institute of Peace.

And we're in the process now of trying to identify his successor. There are several European candidates. And it's still necessary to have the post of High Representative but I think all of us agree that slowly but surely the responsibilities should then be given back to the state and the burden of responsibility has to be placed on the shoulders of the local political leaders. That's essentially what I told them at lunch today. I hosted them all for lunch -- the same group that will meet Secretary Rice tomorrow -- and said that we now expected that they would undertake this process of constitutional reform.

I said the United States would be willing to help them every day and have mediation available from our Ambassador in Sarajevo, Doug McElhaney, or from Ambassador Don Hays, who is an American Foreign Service Officer seconded to the U.S. Institute of Peace, that I would be involved as well, but that we expected them to lead this process. And that's why we felt it was so important not that we declare tomorrow -- we, the United States -- that constitutional reform is an imperative, that they declare it.

And I think that if you take both the case of Bosnia and the Kosovo talks beginning this week, it is a sign of a very active U.S. diplomacy. Secretary Rice has asked us to be involved every day in this process. We have been. And I think the fact that she is hosting them tomorrow and the way she's going to do it reflects the importance that we place on the U.S. being involved and on the need for progress in 2006.


QUESTION: Nick, at the risk of perhaps asking you to repeat some of the remarks you made earlier today, what's the overall lesson you draw from the original -- from Dayton and how it came out and what needs to be done now -- I mean, in terms of what you anticipated then from the -- down the road?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, Charlie. Well, I think if you look back at the achievement of Dayton and then the ten years of NATO peacekeeping, certainly the combination of the use and threat of military force combined with active and creative diplomacy, that's what stopped the war in September/October 1995. It was NATO airpower and then it was the combination with diplomacy exercised throughout the autumn of 1995 that made the agreement at Dayton possible.

In the last ten years, it was the patience and steadfastness and commitment of NATO and then of the European Union to keep thousands of soldiers there, to patrol the streets, separate the previously warring parties, allow them time to work out their political differences and social and ethnic and religious differences so that they could live eventually in peace and that's another lesson, that in difficult situations like this, you need to be patient and you need to match your commitments with deeds.

And someone asked me this morning -- in fact, it was CNN -- asked this morning whether or not there were lessons for Iraq and I said, sure, the policy of the Bush Administration which is to be patient, which is to be committed diplomatically as we are through Secretary Rice and Ambassador Khalilzad and which is also is to maintain sufficient troop levels there in order to get the job done. Well, that was the recipe of success for NATO and the United States over the last decade, as we implemented the Dayton Accords. So in that sense, perhaps, it's another lesson that can be learned and I said that I felt that the policy that had been followed in Bosnia, that commitment and that patience was being shown, of course, by our Administration in Iraq as well.


QUESTION: Change the subject?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You want to change the subject?

QUESTION: Can we talk about Iran for a second?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: What would you like to know about Iran?

QUESTION: Reports are that there has already been a decision made by the EU-3 and by the United States, that they will not seek a referral at Thursday's IAEA BOG meeting. Would you say that that decision has been made or is your diplomacy still working on bringing the Russians and the Chinese along?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I will say this: I was in London on Friday for talks with the European-3 as well as the EU, as well as Russia and China and India. We had excellent discussions. What is clear to me from those discussions is that Iran is quite isolated. There's not a single one of those countries who wants Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. There is not a single one of those countries who wants Iran to proceed with advanced nuclear research. None of those countries say that they want Iran to enrich or reprocess. All the countries would prefer a solution of the type that Secretary Rice discussed in her press conference in China yesterday and that Steve Hadley discussed the day before and that is some kind of arrangement where if Iran is to have the benefit of peaceful nuclear power -- nuclear energy, I should say -- in the future, the sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle would take place outside the territory of Iran. And what I heard in those conversations in London on Friday was agreement that those are the essential elements of some type of negotiation.

Now, what I also heard is that the European Union is open to further negotiations and further discussions with the Iranian Government. Of course, you know the Russian Government has been in contact with the Iranian Government, so it's a period of great fluidity diplomatically. And I was encouraged by those discussions on Friday because I think that there is a wider circle of countries now working all together to send one message to Iran, and that is that the international community is concerned about the statements made by the Iranian President, concerned by some of the decisions made by the current Iranian Government, specifically, the decision to walk away from the talks with the European Union.

And it's going to be -- it'd have to be up to the EU-3 to decide essentially, now how do they want to proceed because there is an IAEA Board of Governors meeting on Thursday and Friday of this week, but there's also at least the possibility and the desirability, I should say, of further discussions with Iran. And since we are not party to these negotiations, the United States is not at the table. We are not one of the countries talking to Iran, of course, as you know that.

I think it's best that the EU-3, which state publicly what they wish to do and then we would be in support of either future negotiations, future discussions or any other alternative that they would like to choose and that's where I left it with them on Friday and I know we'll be back in touch with them tomorrow for further discussions. But that just builds on what Secretary Rice said yesterday and I'd refer you to her remarks and also what Steve Hadley said over the weekend. Both of them spoke to this issue, if you look at the transcripts from the briefings.

QUESTION: Nick, I mean, it does sound like you're saying that they would prefer to have further discussions than to seek the referral on the 24th and that this would -- and that we're willing to go along with that. It does sound like that's what you're saying.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I didn't say that. I was trying to be very careful and deliberate and diplomatic in what I said. And what I'm trying to say is that we're not a -- it's important to note that the United States is not a party to these talks. Now, we have a fairly hard-line view about Iran and about the nature of the current Iranian Government, its statements pertaining to Israel, its statements pertaining the United States and the actions to begin now a second round of uranium conversion at the Iranian plant at Isfahan. We're very concerned by that. And our view is there ought to be increasing pressure from the international community to be placed on Iran so that they would return the negotiations.

The goal here, the goal, is to get Iran to come back to talks with the Europeans and then hopeful at some point in the future to work out a deal. Both Secretary Rice and Steve Hadley referred to the Russian ideas that are on the table and we certainly want to give diplomacy time to work and a chance to work, but it's not up to us to make any announcements. It's going to have to be up to the European governments. And I know they were meeting today. I think there was a meeting of the foreign ministers today, but they said what they had to say today and we'll be in touch with them tomorrow and then I'm sure we'll be glad to talk to you, once we've had some of those conversations.

MR. CASEY: Nick, I think that's about all the time we got for today.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay. Thank you very much. Pleasure.


Released on November 21, 2005

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