Nicholas Burns Trip to Brussels and the Balkans
Briefing on His October 10-14 Trip to Brussels and the Balkans
R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs
October 7, 2005
(9:40 a.m. EST)
MR. ERELI: This is an impressive crowd given the early hour, but in view of who's giving the briefing I'm not surprised. We're here to welcome Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nick Burns, who will be briefing on his upcoming trip to the Balkans, on the record, on camera, over to you Mr. Burns.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I decided to say a few words, if that's okay with George, but I do want -- we're shutting down the State Department at 4 p.m. All employees are going to be allowed to leave to watch the Red Sox defeat the White Sox. I just thought I'd reassure Charlie of that, so we're off.
QUESTION: Are you going to be putting it on B-Net?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, we'll be happy to put it on B-Net. I mean that's worldwide distribution.
QUESTION: How much power he has and he's still --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, just you wait. Okay, B-Net, right Adam?
MR. ERELI: Done. (Laughter.)
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: All right. I want to talk about --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah, exactly. I want to talk about my trip to the Balkans, but first let me say that Secretary Rice called Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei this morning to congratulate him and to congratulate the International Atomic Energy Agency on the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to both the organization and to Dr. ElBaradei personally. They had a very good talk and I think that Adam will be putting out a statement in just a couple of moments that will reflect how pleased we are to see this honor bestowed on Dr. ElBaradei and the IAEA.
I'm here to brief you on United States policy in the Balkans. I'll be making a trip next week to NATO where we'll have conversations on the Balkans, on Afghanistan and on Iran. And then I'll be going to Sarajevo and Pristina and Belgrade.
The United States is a country with enormous influence in the Balkans by virtue of the fact that we were essentially engaged in stopping the Bosnian war ten years ago this month and in leading to the Dayton Peace Conference ten years ago next month. And in fact we'll be inviting some of the Balkan leaders to Washington in November to commemorate the Dayton Accords, but also to look ahead and to see how the United States can help them to promote both the fulfillment of the Dayton Accords and to lead to final status talks on Kosovo and to see if the Balkan leaders can put that past firmly behind them by arresting and bringing to justice three war criminals: General Mladic, Mr. Karadzic and General Gotovina of Croatia.
So that will be an effort by the United States to reassert our belief that the Balkans remain critically important to our interests as well as to European interests. And I think you'll see a major U.S. diplomatic push over the next couple of months on all of these issues.
At NATO we'll be discussing Afghanistan because that is now NATO's major military operation and will be for quite some time. We'll be discussing the future of Kosovo. We'll be discussing Bosnia and also discussing Iran, and I'd be very happy to talk about any of those issues. We are stopping first at NATO because NATO is our most important alliance. We are increasingly using NATO as a forum for political consultations with our allies and that's why we have a very heavy agenda for Tuesday morning in Brussels.
Following that, my delegation and I will go to Sarajevo. There's been enormous progress just over the last few weeks in Sarajevo. You remember the Dayton Accords left that country with three distinct entities: three police forces, separate militaries, separate governments with heavy devolution of power to those governments. The effort over the last couple of years has been to try to unite the country by forming one defense ministry, one defense establishment and one army, one police force. And the United States was able to broker negotiations over the last year that lead to a defense reform agreement and breakthrough just a couple of weeks ago. And I'll be talking to the Bosnia leadership about that. I want to congratulate the United States negotiators in Sarajevo, led by Ambassador McElhaney who did so much to bring that about.
Just two days ago, the Bosnia-Serb leadership and the other authorities were able to discuss and make progress on police reform. This is a very controversial and sensitive issue; progress had not been expected, but again, the United States, European leaders have been centrally involved, along with Lord Ashdown, Lord Paddy Ashdown, to try to bring the various political leaders together on police reform. And a central object of my trip will be to try to bring that police reform to a full agreement, so that ten years after the Dayton Accords, ten years after the end of the Bosnian war, this country will finally have unified institutions that will unite all the people of that country that have been divided for so long.
So we're looking forward to that and looking forward to welcoming the Bosnia leaders to Washington in November. We're looking forward to having an academic conference, hosted by one of our NGOs here in Washington to look back at Dayton and what worked so well at Dayton and look forward to a future of peace in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
Second, I'll be going to Pristina. Now, Kosovo is going to enter in the next month or two into a very important phase. Since the end of the war in 1999, the situation, the political situation, the status of Kosovo has been frozen. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the other day in New York that he believed that final status talks should begin. We agree with that.
So I'm going to Kosovo for discussions with the Kosovar Albanian leadership and with the Kosovar Serb leadership to counsel them that they ought to be ready for those negotiations, that the United States fully supports them, that we would hope that the United Nations would appoint a special envoy to conduct those negotiations. We would hope those negotiations would start well before the end of 2005. And I will tell the Kosovar leadership that the United States will be centrally involved in those negotiations. We will also appoint an American envoy to the talks.
And our belief is that the status quo of Kosovo, the status quo since June of 1999 -- June 9th, 1999, the day the war ended -- is no longer sustainable. The people of the region have a right to know that they have a future and that they can control that future. And whether or not the future is of continued association with Serbia and Montenegro or the future is of independence, that is not a decision for the United Nations or the United States or any of the European countries to make; that is a decision for the people to make, but they have to have a negotiating framework. So the United States fully supports the decision of Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch these talks in fairly short order. We'll be centrally involved in them. My trip is meant to prepare the ground for these talks and to try to make progress with the parties on the issues so they can arrive at those talks in good shape and willing to deal with these very substantial issues in front of them, the issues that have been delayed for six years that now have to be put on the table.
And finally, I'll be going to Belgrade, to Serbia and Montenegro, to meet President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica and other officials. There we look upon Serbia as the keystone state in the Balkans. Serbia is a state with enormous potential and yet it's been a country that has been held back in its own progress because it has not dealt with the more shameful aspects of its past. Specifically, the Serb Government has not yet arrested General Ratko Mladic, who has been indicted for the crime of murdering 8,000 men and boys at Srebrenica ten years ago this past July. It has not yet arrested and extradited to The Hague Radovan Karadzic, who was of course the political leader and spiritual leader of the Bosnian Serb movement that created the war and carried out the war crimes against innocent people.
And so my message to President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica and Foreign Minister Draskovic will be the United States wants to have a better relationship with Belgrade, with Serbia and Montenegro. We want in the future to welcome them into a partnership relationship with NATO but we will not support that, and in fact we will block that relationship at NATO, as long as Karadzic and Mladic are at large. And we expect the Serb authorities to take action to find them and to extradite them.
When I was in the region in June on my last trip, I had specific conversations with the Serb leadership which led me to believe that the arrest of General Mladic was imminent. And that did not take place and we were severely disappointed that that did not take place before the tenth anniversary commemoration of the Srebrenica massacres.
There's another anniversary coming up November 21st of this year, the tenth anniversary of Dayton. Isn't it high time that these war criminals be brought to justice? That will be my message.
And that message pertains also to the Croatian Government. Now, the European Union has decided that it's going to go forward with Croatia for accession negotiations. The United States has a view that the Croatian Government has not made adequate progress in finding and arresting General Gotovina also indicted for war crimes. And until they do that, and until General Gotovina is in The Hague at the war crimes tribunal, the United States will not agree with any suggestion that NATO should normalize its relation with Croatia or seek to bring Croatia into membership with NATO. Croatia wants to be a member. We will not support that, as long as Gotovina is at large. These are important messages. Of course, we passed them privately. We will be passing them -- I will be talking about these issues publicly as well because ten years after this horrific war in the Balkans, it's high time that the government in Belgrade and the government in Zagreb and the authorities in Banja Luka , the Republika Srpska authorities put the past behind them by bringing these war criminals to justice. So I'll be happy to take your questions on any of these issues.
QUESTION: With regard to Belgrade, do you think it's a lack of leadership, the fact that Mladic and Karadzic are still free or are they just simply being allusive?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, I think it's a lack of political will on the part of the Belgrade authorities. We know and it was publicly known in Serbia and Montenegro that General Mladic was living on a Serb military base as recently as two years ago. Now, we don't know where he is, but it does not stand up to argue that somehow in that very small country the Serb authorities cannot find General Mladic or Radovan Karadzic, who most people think is in the general vicinity either of the Republika Srpska or Montenegro or Serbia itself. It does not stand to reason that these people cannot be found. So we think it's an obligation of the government in Belgrade and of the authorities in Banja Luka, the Bosnian Serb authorities. They ought to be able to do this. Until they do it, they will not have a normal relationship with the United States and they will not have a partnership relationship, much less membership in the future, with NATO.
QUESTION: What about U.S. kind of plans for certification? Are you considering reversing the certification or what about U.S. aid? Are there consequences beyond a better relationship?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You remember that Secretary Powell made a decision to decertify Serbia just at the turn of the year 2004-2005 and that was obviously the correct decision. You'll also remember that Secretary Rice certified Serbia in June and I told Prime Minister Kostunica that she was doing that and that we released roughly $10 million in assistance to Serbia and Montenegro because they had arrested 12 indicted war criminals between January and June of this year, 2005. But since my trip to the region in June, progress has stopped and so the United States has to look at this objectively and in a rather tough way. And there are other certifications to come in the future, and when they come, if progress hasn't been made, we're going to draw the necessary conclusions. I don't want to anticipate what decisions Secretary Rice would make. That's up to her to make, obviously. But I can tell you we will have a very tough-minded view of this. We have to. I mean, someone has to stand up for the people, for the families of the victims of ten years ago, and we cannot forget what happened at Srebrenica. We won't forget it and they will not be coming into NATO until these actions are taken.
QUESTION: You're not the type of person who likes to be lied to, to their face, and it looks like you were in June. You came back and briefed us and said, "I am very certain that this is going to happen this time."
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I'm not saying that. I'm not saying that --
QUESTION: In June you were --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm not saying -- and I'm not saying I was lied to.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I'm just saying that we were given a very clear view that action was imminent. Now, for whatever reason, the arrest of these individuals did not take place and so one of the reasons I want to go to Belgrade is to talk to the government about why that has not happened, but also to let them know that if they want a full relationship with the United States and with NATO, they're going to have to take these actions. And that message is for the Croatian Government as well.
QUESTION: What explanation can they give that will satisfy you?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's why I'm taking the trip. I want to have a full discussion. I want to hear very respectfully the views of the Serb Government. I'm not asserting that anyone lied to me. I'm just saying we have to judge countries by their actions, not by their words. We expected certain action that didn't take place, so we draw the necessary conclusions.
QUESTION: Secretary Burns, your representative to OSCE, Felice Gaer, raised the issue of ethnic minorities, nonexistent in Greece, as you know. She stated September 28th in Warsaw, Poland, "Greece's poor treatment of the ethnic Turkish, Albanian and Macedonian minorities is still a concern of the United States of America. Greece continues to displace Roman communities in a manner inconsistent with the Greek law."
Any comment on that?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I would suggest that you direct that comment to Ambassador Charlie Ries, who is the American Ambassador in Athens, who is the official -- the lead official dealing with this.
But you know for many, many years we have an excellent relationship with our ally, Greece, but we also have had concerns about the Roma community and the treatment of the Roma community. We've expressed those. We've documented those in our annual reports. And I don't have anything to add to those reports, but I am certainly in a position to support what our representatives of the OSCE have been saying.
QUESTION: One follow-up on this. Since in Greece we have only Albanians who are immigrants, legal or illegal, I am wondering do you consider the presence of the Albanians in Greece as a minority in the Department of State?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, Mr. Lambros, I would just direct you back to the official reports that we put out from this podium and direct you to what Ambassador Ries has said on this. I don't want to be unfair to them and try to comment on issues that I am no longer responsible for, so I'd leave that with Ambassador Ries.
QUESTION: When you evaluate the success of your diplomacy pressing Belgrade for these arrests, do you look back at your -- at the decision to certify, wondering if that actually gave them an out, it released the pressure on them and so they said, well, 12 is good enough, we don't have to do the top guys? Because it seems as if at least there's a coincidence that the certification coincided with the lack of progress.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I don't, and I'll tell you why. What the government in Serbia and Montenegro wants and what the government in Zagreb wants is they want full membership eventually in NATO and the European Union. Now, NATO operates by consensus so all 26 countries have to agree if a country is going to be invited in to become a partner or a member. And the United States will not agree until these war criminals are arrested and sent to The Hague.
And so that is really where the bottom line is. That's what these governments want. And so we still, I think, are in a position to be able to persuade them to do this.
Now, I think it was obviously correct of us to certify the actions of the Serbian Government in June because they had arrested 12 indicted war criminals and that was the type of action they had not taken in the nine years since the Bosnian war ended. And so we were impressed by that. It was welcomed. I welcomed the actions and the leadership of Prime Minister Kostinica but we were led to believe that the next logical step was the arrest of General Mladic. It's a very small country. He is a recognizable figure.
And so it stands to reason that he should -- that he can be found by the authorities and he should be found. So I think we were right to recognize the progress but there are other litmus tests to come. There are other certifications to come. And we'll draw our own conclusions based on countries' actions, not based on their words.
QUESTION: You think the Croatian authorities know where General Gotovina is and they don't have a political will to arrest him?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't know the answer to that question. I don't know if -- I don't know if there are members of the Croatian Government who know where he is. All I know is, they have an obligation to arrest him and extradite him to The Hague. Until they do, the United States will not support Croatia for membership in NATO.
Now, Croatia is one of three countries being considered for membership: Albania, Macedonia and Croatia are in the final stages of applying for NATO membership and we have -- when we met with the Croatian Foreign Minister in New York, a couple of weeks ago, Assistant Secretary Fried and I told her on a couple of occasions that the United States would not support their membership in NATO, absent the arrest of General Gotovina.
So we have drawn -- we have taken a different path than the European Union on this issue. And our view is that these crimes were so horrific in the Balkan wars of the early to mid 1990s that these senior figures, who led the effort to massacre people, must be brought to a trial and must be tried for those war crimes. And we're not in a position to normalize our relations by bringing them into our most important alliance until that step has been taken.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) see the role of the --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Why don't you proceed, yes, and then we'll go back.
QUESTION: Okay. How do you see the role of the United States in the negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina when Pristina -- the leaders in Kosovo said yesterday the independence is the only thing they want for Kosovo and Belgrade said the independence is the only thing we won't accept?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, that's why we need negotiation because they can't yet agree on the future of Kosovo. These negotiations will be led by the United Nations, by a senior figure appointed by Secretary General Kofi Annan. And we will appoint our own envoy to work with that UN envoy in partnership. And the United States has a great deal of influence in Kosovo and in the region because of our role in stopping the ethnic cleansing by Milosevic of the Kosovo-Albania population in March of 1999. And we will intend to exercise that leadership and that influence. We'll be centrally involved in these talks. It's very important that these talks are conducted in a peaceful manner and that neither side resorts to intimidation or to violence. NATO has a very strong military force of 18,000 soldiers in Kosovo and NATO is prepared to keep order and will keep order in a very vigorous way as these talks proceed.
And so the reason that Secretary General Annan wants to conduct the talks and the reason we want to be involved in them is because these two major actors are so separate. They have different views about the future. One is seeking, as you said, independence; the other is seeking a continued association of Kosovo in Serbia and Montenegro. And we don't have a position and we shouldn't have a position as to what the outcome should be. But we have a responsibility and an opportunity to help them arrive at a peaceful settlement of this long, long simmering dispute. And it's high time that the people of the region knew what their future was and that's why we support these negotiations.
QUESTION: A question on the -- I mean, the EU seems to have given the green light to Croatia. Do you think that's a mistake? Have you made that view known to your European partners? And then, if I can just change subject -- the discussions you'll have in Brussels regarding Afghanistan, NATO, if you can just give us a bit more?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we're not in a position to second-guess the European Union. Those are all of our friends and allies in that organization. But we don't belong to the European Union; we do belong to NATO. And in NATO in 2002, we established the proposition, our foreign ministers in Reykjavik that we would not allow Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina and Serbia and Montenegro into either membership in the case of Croatia, partnership in the case of the other two, without the arrest of these war criminals. We're sticking to that because we believe there is an ability of the Croatian authorities and the other authorities to arrest these war criminals. Your second question, I'm sorry.
QUESTION: Yeah, it was about the discussions you have regarding Afghanistan and NATO.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah. Well, as you know, Secretary Rice will be visiting Afghanistan as part of her tour of Central Asia next week. The meeting I'm going to is intended to look ahead at the future of NATO military role in Afghanistan. NATO has expanded its military posture in Afghanistan. They are now 12,000 NATO troops in the country. NATO has been in Kabul in the north and the western part of the country.
In early 2006, NATO forces will move to the southern part of the country to the Kandahar region, in essence, to replace the American troops there so the American troops can move fully to the eastern part of the country on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. This is highly appreciated by our government and we, of course, are involved in the NATO mission with our own forces. We support it. And the discussions in Brussels on Tuesday are designed to look ahead and look at the increasing integration between the NATO force and the U.S.-led coalition force, so that we can have a more seamless and effective military presence in Afghanistan.
We assume that we will be there, all of us, for some time to come. I know Secretary Rice is looking forward to her conversations with President Karzai and with the other Afghan ministers on the future of our military efforts, on the counternarcotics effort, where we think greater progress must be made. But in essence, I think Secretary Rice wants to go there to celebrate the remarkable achievements of the Afghan people since the autumn of 2001. The fact they've had their second free election and the fact that they are now beginning to rebuild their country. The Taliban and al-Qaida continue to attack the NATO and U.S. forces, but they do not represent a strategic threat to the government. And obviously, Secretary Rice is going to Afghanistan to demonstrate the very strong support that we have for that particular government and for the Afghan people.
Yes, we'll come back, Mr. Lambros.
QUESTION: I'd like to come back (inaudible), also as a correspondent for Slovenian Daily, they would like to ask if you see some room for Slovenian diplomacy in Kosovo conflict?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, Slovenia is a member of NATO. And so NATO has the primary responsibility for peacekeeping in Kosovo through the 18,000-strong NATO force. Slovenia is part of that. And obviously, whatever Slovenia and Croatia and the other neighbors of Kosovo can do to exert a positive influence on both sides to motivate them to conduct a peaceful negotiation that will lead to a clearer decision about the future of the province, that will be of great help to us.
QUESTION: Under Secretary Burns, just to switch tack for a second, are you going to be having any discussions in Europe on Iran and that whole process? And this is a second question, the Nobel Prize to the IAEA, the United States has always not been totally warm to what's been going on in terms of the IAEA, in terms of Iraq and inspection systems there. Do you see it as a bit of a rebuff to the U.S. attitudes earlier to the IAEA?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: On the contrary, Secretary Rice reached out to Dr. ElBaradei this morning because we have great respect for him. We are genuinely pleased that this very important international institution is being recognized by the Nobel Committee in Oslo. It's well deserved and they've done fine work and they're doing fine work on Iran. To go back to your first question, we were very pleased at the vote at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting in Vienna two weeks ago because it showed that there is certainly a majority of countries on that Board and in the world that are concerned about Iran's nuclear intentions.
Iran is an issue that has -- that's at the forefront of our diplomatic agenda. I know Secretary Rice when she was in New York discussed Iran and the great majority of the nearly 50 meetings that she had over those 11 days in New York, it comes up in a lot of her conversations, not just with European foreign ministers but ministers from other parts of the world.
We are concerned by the actions of the Ahmadi-Nejad government. Here's a government that has come into power and it asserts it has a right to the sensitive aspects of a nuclear fuel cycle. He said three times in his speech in New York that they have a right to enrich and reprocess. No one in the world agrees with him, with the possible exception of Venezuela. But if you ask even those countries that abstained on the resolution in Vienna, they don't want to see Iran achieve the ability to enrich and reprocess.
There's a great effort underway -- and I'll certainly be talking to the European leadership about this in Brussels on Tuesday -- a great effort underway to consolidate the international coalition and to convince Iran that it ought to suspend uranium conversion, it ought to -- which is underway now at the Iranian plant Isfahan -- that Iran should return to the negotiations with the EU-3 and Iran should seek a peaceful, diplomatic solution and the solution should be that Iran shall not have access to a nuclear fuel cycle on Iranian territory. No one trusts Iran to have that.
And we were impressed by the size of the vote against Iran at the IAEA as well as by the conviction of even those countries that abstained, that they don't wish Iran to proceed further. If you add to that, Iran's leading support for terrorist groups in the Middle East and its abysmal human rights record, this is a country that is a major concern of the United States and of our partners worldwide in Asia as well as in Europe. So Iran is high on our agenda and I know the Secretary deals with this on a daily basis. And I'll certainly be having talks in Europe about this as well.
QUESTION: Can I follow up on Iran?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah.
QUESTION: I would say the talks are at best stalled, but there is a proposal out there from South Africa that could change the dynamic. What do you think about altering the negotiating system to include that proposal?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We support the European-3: Britain, France and Germany. We support their negotiations. We believe those negotiations should be resumed. I'm not actually aware that there is a formal proposal by another country.
QUESTION: Well, one more on that.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure.
QUESTION: I mean, I understand you support the EU-3 but if those talks are stalled and the South Africans are willing to use their kind of good offices, if you will, to kind of jump start them and maybe they would be a greater -- they would have some influence in the outcome. Isn't the outcome what's more important?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Again, I'm not aware and I follow this issue every day of any other formal proposal out there.
QUESTION: But South Africa --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: But I am aware of this: The Iranians unilaterally broke off their negotiations with the Europeans in August and it's our position that the Iranians should return to those talks, suspend uranium conversion at Isfahan and seek a negotiated settlement and not seek to, in essence, thumb their nose at the international community, which is what they've been doing.
QUESTION: Well, wait -- one more -- the Iranians say that they broke off the negotiations with the EU because they felt that the EU wasn't negotiating in good faith. So if there are other parties that are willing to join the process -- I understand you say that there may not be a formal one by South Africa. But you have said in the past that, you know, that South Africa is kind of interested in finding out where things are and is taking a greater interest in the process. If other parties are willing to kind of help out, are you saying that you don't want that help?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The Iranians had exactly one country with them in Vienna: One -- Venezuela. So the Iranians can say what they want but the message from the international community has been and will continue to be, they have to go back to their talks with the European Union. Those talks hold great promise. The European Union has put serious proposals on the table. We support that process.
QUESTION: Could you give us a sense of the interagency discussions here about Iran policy? And can you address The Wall Street Journal report about a State Department memo considering new options in our approach to Iran?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No. No, we normally don't talk about our interagency consultations because we prefer to conduct them in private, which is the best way to conduct interagency discussions. I have no comment on this. I think Sean dealt admirably with questions on The Wall Street Journal article yesterday. So I'll leave it with Sean.
QUESTION: Can you give us your sense, then, of -- if we're going to be pursuing a tougher approach or if there's any room for engagement with Iran?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I will say this -- as Sean said yesterday -- I know Secretary Rice believes that given the actions of the Iranian Government over the last two months, the new Iranian Government, we will continue to have a very tough-minded approach to Iran. And there is no discussion of overtures or of any kind of olive branches being extended to the Iranian Government. We have a policy that is clear and the Secretary believes that policy is succeeding.
Yes. Way in the back.
QUESTION: Does the U.S. Government want to see any new member of NATO until 2008 or not? And can you see the role of Macedonia in the Balkans?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The United States, since 1949, has always believed that NATO's doors have to be open to future members. We still believe that. There are three countries being considered for membership. The NATO countries, all of them together, will have to make a decision as to whether or not they're ready for NATO membership by 2008. We are working very closely with a very good friend in Skopje, in Macedonia -- the Republic of Macedonia -- and they're making excellent progress as is Albania, as is Croatia, with the problem that Croatia still has to resolve the war criminals issue.
QUESTION: (Inaudible) the negotiations start well before the end of 2005?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: On Kosovo?
QUESTION: On Kosovo. Yes.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes.
QUESTION: When do you expect the negotiations to finish? And also do you have -- there was some speculations about the envoy, the European envoy, who it would be. Do you have any name on mind? And also about the American (inaudible).
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes. It will be up to Secretary General Kofi Annan to announce the name of the United Nations envoy. It'll be up to that envoy, along with the Secretary General, to decide when the talks should begin and when they will conclude. But we'll be centrally involved in support of the United Nations as a friend of this effort. And we'll have our envoy, who will work in concert and in support of the United Nations envoy. This is going to a very intensive process but it's impossible today to predict how long these talks will be.
MR. CASEY: Nick, we're going to have to keep you on schedule --
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Sure.
MR. CASEY: -- particularly so that you have time to watch the Red Sox this afternoon.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Exactly.
MR. CASEY: You get one more in here.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay. Well, okay -- we'll finish with Mr. Lambros. We always finish with Mr. Lambros. I have such great nostalgia for our -- (laughter.)
QUESTION: (Inaudible) after the talks with Serbian leaders in Belgrade, the press conference at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, you said and I quote, it's very short, "Rather than leave the situation to continue as it is, we believe that it could lead to further violence of the type that we saw in March 2004; to avoid that, we are pushing diplomacy."
So my question is, what (inaudible) the strategy standards before status there was another strategy later or standards into status. Now, we are talking about, what, status before standards?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No. We're talking about standards and status. The fact is for a number of years, for the last few years, we felt it was very important for the various parties to the Kosovo conflict to meet these internationally agreed-upon standards to improve their performance, to reform their governing structures, to be more inclusive, for instance, to allow the Kosovar Serbs to play a greater role in the assembly and to participate in the assembly in the life of the province. Standards are still important. We'll continue to focus on them. But everybody agrees, certainly all the members of the group of countries that have been involved in Kosovo now for the last six years that the status quo cannot be tolerated to sustain any longer, that we've got to move on and help the people of the region determine what their own future is going to be. So it's standards and status, if you'd like, but it's onto the final status talks shortly because that's the next key step on the road to full peace, as well as justice in Kosovo itself.
QUESTION: Secretary Burns, recognizing FYROM, on November 4, 2004 as "Macedonia," that means in the meantime that you are recognizing the so-called, "Macedonian ethnicity and language?" What is the U.S. policy?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Secretary Powell made a decision on November 4, 2004 that we recognize Macedonia by its name, the Republic of Macedonia. We stand by that decision.
QUESTION: And what about the (inaudible?)
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you, Mr. Lambros. It's a pleasure. (Laughter.)
Released on October 7, 2005