Cablegate: Serbia: Ambassador's First Meeting with Presidential Foreign

DE RUEHBW #0025/01 0361420
R 051420Z FEB 10

Friday, 05 February 2010, 14:20
EO 12958 DECL: 2020/02/05
CLASSIFIED BY: Deborah Mennuti, Political Counselor, State, POL; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)
1. (C) In a February 3 conversation with the Ambassador, presidential foreign policy advisor Jovan Ratkovic conveyed Serbia’s desire for intensified cooperation with the United States and detailed his plans to visit Washington February 10-12 to discuss possible ways forward on Kosovo, saying Serbia sought a “realistic, pragmatic, peaceful, win-win solution” for Serbs and Albanians. He expressed concern that the International Civilian Office (ICO) plan to integrate northern Kosovo could destabilize the situation and threaten political stability in Serbia, and would not engage on the issue of whether Serbia would seek an UNGA resolution calling for new status talks. Ratkovic noted the important role that KFOR played in Kosovo and said that Serbia would formally open its NATO mission by mid-2010 and increase its participation in Partnership for Peace activities. Progress toward EU membership would likely be slowed by EU enlargement fatigue and wariness of accepting new members until they were fully qualified, he predicted. Ratkovic expressed cautious optimism that a breakthrough in bilateral relations with Croatia would be possible, concern about Macedonia’s long-term stability, and disappointment with the poor state of relations with Montenegro. End Summary.
2. (SBU) The Ambassador paid an introductory courtesy call on presidential foreign policy advisor Jovan Ratkovic on February 3. Ratkovic was accompanied by his deputy Aleksandar Knezevic.
Bilateral Relations
3. (SBU) The Ambassador thanked Ratkovic for his help in arranging for her to present her credentials to President Tadic so soon after arrival (Ref B), which had allowed her to get off to a quick start in meeting Serbian government officials. She told Ratkovic that she would work to build on the already-strong momentum of the bilateral relationship by expanding our cooperation on economic and security issues, while addressing difficult issues in a constructive way. The visits of Codel Voinovich, Codel Pomeroy, and EUR DAS Jones in February would be important opportunities for dialogue, she noted. Ratkovic said that Senator Voinovich was an old friend who was always welcome in Serbia. The fact that he and Senator Shaheen would be arriving on February 17 after having visited Pristina on the anniversary of Kosovo’s declaration of independence was problematic, however; Ratkovic was unable to confirm whether President Tadic would meet with the congressional delegation pending resolution of these itinerary concerns.
4. (S) Ratkovic expressed the hope that 2010 would be a “decisive” year for building bilateral relations in which the United States would treat Serbia as a true partner in all areas of cooperation, not just security. Serbia intended to continue its cooperation with the U.S. on sensitive intelligence matters and to increase defense cooperation by working on peacekeeping training with the Ohio National Guard. Multilaterally, Serbia had committed to sending up to 50 additional gendarmerie to UNMISTAH in Haiti under EU auspices and was in discussions with Spain about contributing troops to UNIFIL in Lebanon.
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Brainstorming on Kosovo
5. (C) Ratkovic informed the Ambassador that he would visit Washington from February 10-12, after attending Wehrkunde in Munich and a Conservative Party event in London. He hoped to meet with A/S Gordon, as well as contacts in Congress, for “discreet brainstorming” on ways forward on Kosovo. The Ambassador conveyed U.S. concerns (Ref B) about indications that Serbia would continue to take a confrontational approach on Kosovo after the ICJ rendered its advisory opinion. Dismissing the question of whether Serbia would seek an UNGA resolution calling for new status talks as a “mere tactical issue” for the MFA to decide, Ratkovic said the Presidency was focused on the bigger question of how to achieve a “realistic, pragmatic, peaceful, win-win solution” for Serbs and Albanians. Ratkovic said that Serbia recognized and was trying to respect the “legitimate interests” of Kosovar Albanians; in return, Serbia expected the Kosovars to respect the legitimate interests of Serbia and Kosovo Serbs as well. He stressed that the Serbian government wanted the U.S. to be part of and support a solution that would lead to regional stability and reconciliation. For that reason, he hoped for high-level, free-thinking, and informal discussions in Washington; he had received explicit guidance from President Tadic on the specifics of his message, but was not at liberty to share it yet.
6. (C) Ratkovic returned to the topic of Kosovo later in the conversation, stressing the sensitivity of how the north is handled. Ratkovic argued that the northern part of Kosovo had a history distinct from the rest of the province, claiming that the three districts north of the Ibar were only annexed to the province after World War II to counter-balance the rapid growth of the ethnic Albanian population. “These people have never lived with Albanians, have never felt themselves part of Kosovo, and won’t accept rule by Pristina,” Ratkovic said. “Belgrade is not trying to change the reality on the ground for Kosovar Albanians, but changing the reality for Kosovo Serbs would also be destabilizing,” he added. For that reason the ICO proposal to integrate the north put forward by Peter Feith and supported by the United States was “not helpful,” according to Ratkovic, who claimed that military intervention was being discussed. He said that this was the primary reason that Tadic decided to address the UN Security Council on January 22: the implementation of such a strategy could result in instability and thus become a national security concern for Serbia, threatening the country’s democratization and pro-Western orientation. (Comment: Serbia’s historical arguments are routinely countered by Albanian historical recollections to the contrary. Ratkovic’s claims of a separate historical “reality” for Northern Mitrovica, therefore, would find resistance from Kosovo Albanian historians. End Comment.)
7. (C) The Ambassador responded that the ideas put forward by Feith were not new; the integration of northern Kosovo had always been on the table. She emphasized that there was no discussion of the use of force to impose the integration of the whole territory of Kosovo. Noting that we understand the Serbian government’s sensitivities, the Ambassador underscored the need to exchange views openly on the full range of unresolved issues and encouraged Ratkovic to share his thinking in detail while in Washington. Ratkovic said that Serbia had the EU’s assurances that the document produced by the ICO was not an EU plan. He added that given the situation on the ground and the attitude of Kosovo Serbs toward the ICO, the only way to implement the plan would be by use of force.
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NATO Relations
8. (SBU) Asked about the President’s views on Serbia’s relations with NATO, Ratkovic said that as a former Minister of Defense, President Tadic knows the issue well. Tadic believes that Serbia cannot remain outside of NATO forever, but doesn’t say this often because of the political sensitivity of the issue. Ratkovic explained that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the citizens of Yugoslavia assumed that they would be among the first to enter both the European Union and NATO. It wasn’t until the wars of the Milosevic era and the 1999 NATO intervention that anti-NATO sentiment developed in Serbia. Ratkovic characterized current public support for PfP participation and NATO membership as “surprisingly high” given Serbia’s history.
9. (C) Serbia is taking concrete steps to increase its engagement with NATO, Ratkovic said. It has appointed an ambassador to NATO and established a mission there; once the office is fully operational, President Tadic will travel to Brussels in June or July to open it formally and hopes to address the North Atlantic Council. Tadic had instructed the MFA and the MOD to increase Serbia’s participation in PfP “on the model of Austria.” These steps needed to precede any decision about membership, Ratkovic said. He added that President Tadic would meet with SACEUR/EUCOM CDR ADM James Stavridis in Belgrade on February 11. Ratkovic emphasized that NATO’s image in the Serbian public had a significant influence on the development of the relationship, mentioning the role of KFOR in protecting Kosovo Serbs and religious sites and concerns about its drawdown.
European Integration
10. (C) Ratkovic predicted that the Spanish EU presidency would push for movement on Serbia’s EU membership application in March but did not know whether the effort would be successful, due to member-states’ enlargement fatigue and wariness of accepting any more new members that were not fully qualified. He charged that Germany’s misguided belief that enlargement was economically detrimental rather than beneficial had led it to introduce new hurdles for applicants, including making the forwarding of a membership application to the Commission for an avis a political rather than a technical question. He asserted that both Serbia and Croatia had the administrative capacity and political will to fulfill all EU criteria, noting that the upcoming tenth anniversary of the October 5, 2000, overthrow of Milosevic would provide an opportunity to remind the world of the results of Serbia’s “democratic revolution.”
Regional Relations
11. (C) The Ambassador told Ratkovic that the United States was supportive of Serbia’s efforts to improve its relations with Croatia and informed him that PRM DAS David Robinson would visit Belgrade in early March to look at how the United States could contribute to resolving protracted refugee issues, particularly
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between Serbia and Croatia. Ratkovic said that the presidency was working discreetly with Croatia on a “roadmap” to resolve all of the outstanding bilateral issues, and that they understood the EU had sent a helpful message to Zagreb that Croatia needed to find solutions in order to close Chapter 23 of the acquis. He said he was cautiously optimistic that there would be a breakthrough with Croatia in 2010.
12. (C) Ratkovic expressed pessimism about prospects for constitutional reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina in light of upcoming elections. He said the Spanish EU presidency would make a last attempt to reach agreement before the election campaign began in earnest but would face difficult odds. Ratkovic reiterated that the Serbian government supported the territorial integrity of BiH and would not be swayed by what he claimed was the desire of the majority of Republika Srpska residents to secede and merge with Serbia. In this context, Serbia also supported BiH’s entry into EU and NATO as a way to stabilize the country and cement the current borders. Ratkovic said the USG had miscalculated in making constitutional reform a pre-condition for a NATO Membership Action Plan status for BiH, as most Bosnian Serbs were not for NATO. He expressed regret that the Butmir process had not produced agreement since many of the elements of the plan were acceptable to all three constituent peoples; it would have been better to avoid taking an “all or nothing” approach to the reforms and to have granted MAP status, he judged.
13. (C) Serbia is more worried about Macedonia’s future than Bosnia’s, Ratkovic said. It is not clear how a country composed of two completely different ethnic groups with no common language or religion can hold together, he commented, particularly with the ethnic Albanian population growing at such as rate that it will equal the Slavic population in 20 years. Ratkovic said that President Tadic was talking to both Greece and Macedonia about the name issue in hopes of unblocking Macedonia’s path to both the EU and NATO.
14. (C) Serbia’s relations with Montenegro were at a historic low, Ratkovic said, noting that as he and Tadic were both of Montenegrin origin they felt the situation keenly. He explained that the Montenegrin government had had to distance itself from Belgrade in order to win the independence referendum, but as there were no longer any divisive issues the ball was in Podgorica’s court. It remained to be seen if Montenegro would treat Serbia as “a strategic partner or a bogeyman,” Ratkovic commented. One important criterion will be how Montenegro addresses organized crime, which Ratkovic identified as a serious problem that Serbia believed must be tackled.
15. (C ) As Tadic’s foreign policy advisor, Ratkovic’s comments come closest to reflecting the President’s views and vision on issues across the spectrum. His decision to visit Washington next week, under clear instruction, to outline Tadic’s thinking in a low-key manner on a post-ICJ way forward is a constructive step and may provide an important opportunity to influence Belgrade’s strategy. In a meeting with the UK ambassador (please protect) earlier this week, Ratkovic outlined the following ideas that likely reflect current thinking: Option A: some understanding of a bigger Serbian role in the north and over five monasteries in the south, in which case Belgrade would “accept” but not recognize
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Kosovo; Option B: Partition; Option C: Serbia chooses between Kosovo or the EU. Option A (i.e, finding a way to define Serbia’s special interests in the north and with the status of some churches in the south) most likely reflects the ideas that Belgrade is most interested in exploring. While Serbia’s lack of a commitment to recognize Kosovo will remain an EU stumbling in the long-term, Ratkovic’s overture next week may provide an initial first step toward defining a more realistic modus vivendi, which we have been encouraging the Serbs to explore.
16. (C) Ratkovic understands that the ideas he outlines next week will only provide a basis for discussion, with the expectation, of course, of much more work to follow. Nevertheless, we are encouraged by what appears to be a growing recognition of both the strategic and tactical importance of opening channels for a post-ICJ dialogue sooner rather than later, and the need to manage next steps in a way that does not undermine other key Belgrade objectives, above all eventual EU accession. FM Jeremic’s visit to Washington the week of February 22 and DAS Jones’s travel to the region the same week will provide important follow-on opportunities for continued engagement on the way ahead. End Comment. WARLICK

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