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Nicholas Burns Remarks to the Press in Sarajevo

Remarks to the Press in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina October 12, 2005

AMBASSADOR MCELHANEY: Good afternoon. I would like to introduce to you the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon, it's a pleasure to be with you. I'm sorry if we kept some of you waiting. As all of you know I am here on a trip in the Balkans to see if we can make progress on many of the issues that have been before us for the past decade. Since the beginning of our trip, we met today with the Tri-Presidency and the Prime Minister, had a very good meeting with the four of them, and then just had a meeting with the Bosnian Serb leadership led by Mr. Cavic. We are going on to meet with the Defense Minister, as well as with some youth groups.

I am also going to Pristina tomorrow, where my delegation and I will meet the Kosovar Albanian leadership, and the Kosovar Serb leadership, as well as other political figures in Kosovo. Finally, tomorrow evening and Friday, we'll be in Belgrade, where we will meet with President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, Foreign Minister Draskovic, and other members of civil society.

This trip is my second in five months, part of our effort to demonstrate the great interest that my Government has in trying to help resolve some of the issues that have bedeviled this region for the last decade or so, since the signing of the Dayton Accords. This trip is meant to convey the very active interest the United States has in playing a leadership role in the Balkan region. And, I must say that, concerning the events today and the meetings we've had today, we think there has been some progress, obviously, -- the passage of the defense reform legislation, with the prospect that there might be now passage of police reform legislation. We hope very much for progress on Brcko and its full reintegration into the life of this country. We remember from the Dayton Accords what a difficult issue that was and we think there has been considerable progress there.

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I told the Tri-Presidency, as well as the Bosnian Serb leadership, that we are going to be holding a commemoration of the Dayton Accords on November 21st of this year in Washington, D.C. This will be a series of events meant, not just to look backward, to remember what happened in Dayton, and the promise of Dayton, but also to look forward. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice intends to have a meeting with the Tri-Presidency, we'll have other meetings for the Tri-Presidency and some of the other leaders coming, from the Federation and Republika Srpska, with officials of the State Department and the Defense Department and other agencies of the US Government. In addition to that, we will have a ceremony to mark the ten-year commemoration of the Dayton Accords. We will also encourage the leaders from Bosnia and Herzegovina to meet with our Congressional leaders. And we'll be inviting, of course, other parties of countries that took part in the Dayton Accords 10 years ago. This will be an important anniversary, an important occasion to mark progress, but also to look ahead and see what will be possible in the future.

I suggested today to the Tri-Presidency, as well as to the Republika Srpska leaders, that one of the issues they should be working on is to look beyond the reforms that they've already made towards further constitutional reform, in the spirit of the Dayton Accords, and to look for the evolution of the Dayton Accords to see the strengthening of a single Presidency in the future, the strengthening of the Prime Minister's position, and of course an effective parliament in the future. These reforms have been talked about; they are the logical extension of Dayton Accords and they are the future that will lead forward from the progress made on defense reform and police reform. I detected and think we have secured a great deal of interest among political party leaders and in the Tri-Presidency officials with whom we met, that this should be the future, and so the United States looks forward to working with these leaders on further constitutional reform. And we expect that there might even be some commitments made to do so in Washington. It does not mean that all of these issues will be decided in five weeks time, but it does mean that there will be a commitment by the leaders that they should go forward to work on these issues in the future.

I am also encouraged by some of the conversations we had today on the issue concerning war criminals -- encouraged in the sense that I would expect when the leadership comes to Washington that there will be an unequivocal statement made by the leadership of this country, including the Bosnian Serb leadership, that Radovan Karadzic should give himself up and be sent to the Hague and be put on trial for war crimes, and if he cannot give himself up, he should be arrested; and that Ratko Mladic should do the same. It's important to us that we hear a clear and an unequivocal statement from the Bosnian Serb leadership that they believe that both Karadzic and Mladic should either voluntarily surrender or should be arrested. And Mr. Cavic and Mr. Dodik and Mr. Ivanic just assured me in a meeting that that is their position. They said that they believed that Karadzic and Mladic should give themselves up and be held accountable for their war crimes in The Hague. I was gratified to hear that; I told them I would be more gratified when we see this actually happen, because actions are going to speak louder than words.

Our position on war criminals is uncompromising: the United States is not going to support Bosnia and Herzegovina for membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace until Karadzic is in The Hague. And when I'm in Belgrade tomorrow evening and Friday, I will tell the Serb leadership that the United States will not support Serbia and Montenegro for membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace until Mladic is in The Hague. It is furthermore the position of the United States that Croatia will not become a member of NATO until General Gotovina is in The Hague. Our Government believes that we cannot afford to forget the massacres of the Balkan wars, and that those people responsible for those massacres should end up on trial for war crimes. We will not compromise on this judgment. Others may want to do that, others may want to go ahead and have a more normal relationship, but not the United States. We are sticking to our principles and I made that clear in each of the meetings that I had with the leadership of this country today.

So, I will be very happy to answer any questions you have on the meetings today or the meetings that I am going to have tomorrow in Kosovo and Belgrade. We are encouraged by the progress here. If we measure the progress from the Dayton Accords 10 years ago until now, there has been a slow, evolutionary progress towards a stronger state. Our very great hope is that, following the passage of defense and police reform, we are going to see now that the next great issue that needs to be discussed in this country is constitutional reform. We think that we have a commitment, based on today's meetings, that the leaders of this country are ready to embark on that process.

QUESTION: Sead Numanovic, Dnevni Avaz, Sarajevo. Two quick questions: first, talking about constitutional reforms, some Croat parties are advocating for the third entity. What is your position on that? Second, is there any deadline for arresting Karadzic?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, on the first question, that would be a backwards constitutional reform, so we are not in favor of that. But the Dayton Accords were meant to end the war, and to allow this country to regain its footing, to stand on its own feet again, and to allow people to live in peace together, and the Dayton Accords have succeeded. But the framers of the Dayton Accords, my Government principally, never believed that the Dayton Accords should be set in stone or concrete, impervious to change and modernization. We always believed -- including Secretary of State Christopher and Richard Holbrooke, who negotiated them, and all the American governments that have come since then, including the Government of President Bush and Secretary Rice -- we've always believed that, as times change, the Dayton Accords had to change with them, and they had to be modernized, and there had to be an evolution. That is why we supported, my government supported so strongly defense reform, why American diplomats were the pivotal figures in helping the parties here and the Government here to agree on defense reform. That is why my Government supported police reform, and why our Ambassador was such a pivotal figure in the police reform negotiations. So, having agreed on those two reforms, it seems logical to us that, when the leaders of this country come to Washington in five weeks time, and when they sit down with the Secretary of State and other officials of our Government, the leaders would commit themselves to the ambition of further constitutional reform in the spirit of Dayton. That would be the objective of the single Presidency, and a strengthened prime ministership, and an effective parliament, and when that happens, when that reform is made -- it will be made in the future, I don't know when it will be made, but the process will start with the Washington summit meetings in November -- when that happens, then this country will become a more normal country, like any other European country.

What you have now, 10 years after Dayton, is still, frankly, an abnormal situation with the Tri-Presidency, and with the entities controlling so much of the national life of this country. It is absolutely imperative that, following defense and police reform, constitutional reform be the next great reform effort. So we would not be in favor of the third entity, that would take us backwards before November 21, 1995, but we are in favor of this country moving forwards. We have been a great friend of this country, we have been a loyal and true friend to Bosnia and Herzegovina, and in pointing the direction towards constitutional reform, that's the step that we think is in the best interest of this country.

You asked about war criminals, about deadlines. It's not for me to set deadlines. On November 21, 1995, the leaders of this country, the people who signed that agreement, committed themselves to full implementation of the war crimes provisions of the Dayton Accords. And the Republika Srpska has not met them. And that is why the United States has not supported this country for the Partnership for Peace and NATO, because we still see Karadzic, who is free. He may be in hiding, but he is a free man. He is not behind bars, he is not put on trial. Mladic is not behind bars. And so the deadline is for Belgrade, and for Banja Luka -- they have the responsibility to find Karadzic and Mladic, to convince them to surrender voluntarily or to arrest them. And I was encouraged to hear today from Mr. Cavic, Dodik and others, and Mr. Ivanic, that they believed that Karadzic should give himself up, they told me that, and that he should go to The Hague in be put on trial for war crimes.

And I hope very much that there will be a statement in Washington five weeks from now of all the political party leaders of this country, as well as the Tri-Presidency, a statement in writing, calling on Karadzic and Mladic to give themselves up. That would be a step forward.

QUESTION: You are mentioning constitutional reform. What is the future of the Republika Srpska in that context? What is the official you heard my question, I suppose?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I heard your question.

QUESTION: What does the official United States Government think about the future; will the Republika Srpska survive constitutional reform? Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That is not up to the United States to decide. That is up to the people of this country and its political leaders to decide. But we do believe that, having now passed through 10 years of the Tri-Presidency and the slow and gradual evolution of the Dayton Accords, it's now time to move forward towards further constitutional reform. As I said, a logical objective would be a single Presidency, a strong Prime Ministership, and an effective Parliament. That would be a logical way forward as a way to modernize the Dayton Accords. It would be completely in the spirit, in the letter of the Dayton Accords. It would give this country a chance to join the ranks of democratic countries that have a single leader, and a single governing structure. Building a unitary state, strengthening the institutions of the state, should be an ambition that all the people of this country have.

As you seek a relationship with NATO in the future, it would be our hope that after Karadzic is sent to The Hague, Bosnia and Herzegovina will become a partner of NATO. Eventually, we would like to see your country enter NATO as a member, but all the members of NATO are single unitary states, and I think it's true that the European Union and all the members of the European Union are single unitary states, as well. So, there has to be an evolution, there has to be progress. And we think that will happen in the future. Now, again, I want to make it very clear: these issues are very complicated and they are difficult, so no one is expecting in five weeks time to have an agreement on these issues. But, can there be a political commitment in Washington DC on November 21, 2005, that this is the way forward? Based on what I heard today I would think that the Tri-Presidency and the other political party leaders would agree to set that ambition as the future of the country, and that would be progress.

QUESTION: Nedim Idrizbegovic, Reuters. Sir, there has been lot of talking in the international community about the need to change Dayton and to move forward. No one has been as specific as you are so far. Is what you are telling us now a coordinated approach of the international community? Are others backing you: the European Union, and other governments? And what else, excuse me, if I may finish, what else should be changed, you think, what other areas?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I represent a unitary national government called the United States Government, so I'm speaking on behalf of my government. But certainly, all of us who were present at Dayton as I was, 10 years ago, and all of us who believe in the Dayton Accords have always understood, both here in Europe and in the United States of America, that the Dayton Accords needed to evolve. And there have been many, many conversations about constitutional reform, in which Americans and Europeans have been involved, so I would be astonished if anyone outside of this country had any problem with the idea that constitutional reform is the next step forward. It is the next step forward. That's got to be the future direction of this country. And it may be a long process, it may take time to accomplish, but it's the logical way forward.

QUESTION: Amer Cohadzic, Associated Press Television. You said just now that you would not compromise on the issue of war criminals. You said others are not with you. Does that mean that the EU is not backing you up, does it mean that the EU have different politics on it, because they have no problem with Croatia and Serbia signing the integration agreements now, they have no problem with that? They say they cooperate with the Hague tribunal, and obviously they don't.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I was referring to others here, in this country, who seem to want to delay this, who seem to want to get people in an escape hatch. We have a -- I think we have an agreement in NATO we do have an agreement in NATO of a policy of conditionality. In May 2002, in Iceland, in Reykjavik, NATO countries decided that we would not support Croatia for membership without Gotovina coming in, and we would not support Serbia for Partnership for Peace without Mladic, we would not support Bosnia and Herzgeovina coming in the Partnership for Peace without Karadzic's arrest. So, that is NATO policy, 24 European countries, and two North American countries, including the United States. There is an agreement in NATO that this has to be the way forward. I read that the European Union, over the last week, was very clearly saying that these are important principles for any eventual accession by Croatia into the European Union. But the policy of the United States is very tough, and that is: we are not willing to see Croatia come in without the arrest of Gotovina.

QUESTION: Excellency, Nenad Glusica, Independent Radio and Television Studio 99. I am going to ask you two short questions. First, the US has welcomed the agreement on police reform over the time period of five years, which implies the survival of the Republika Srpska entity. Does that, at the same time, mean a blockage for the constitutional changes in Bosnia and Herzegovina? Second question: will the United States support constitutional changes for a multiethnic Bosnia and Herzegovina, or a federalization with the right of the people to self-determination, including secession?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I will just say, on the question concerning police reform, that we find that the agreement on police reform is a step forward. But it is going to be very important to see how this agreement is implemented. It needs to be implemented in a very aggressive way, and it needs to be implemented in such a way that the authority of the state is not in question. The creation of an Interior Minister with the control of funding in the hands of that minister, is very important. So, what we discussed today with the Tri-Presidency, as well as the Republika Srpska leadership, was the necessity to have an ambitious view of police reform, and ambitious implementation of it over the coming months.

QUESTION: Yacin Al Ashti from KUNA. What practical measures will the U.S. Government take against those governments or groups who oppose cooperation with the ICTY, since some of those radical or extreme groups and governments, they don't care for membership in NATO or PfP? So it is not a punishment for them, because they enjoy isolation.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much for your question. I actually think, based on my conversations today and over the past several years, that the leaders of this country, including the Republika Srpska leadership, care desperately about a new relationship with NATO. They want it very much; they want to see their country progress towards that relationship and they know that they are not going to be able to have the advantages of that relationship as long as Karadzic is at large, as long as he is hiding in some monastery, or hiding in a forest or wherever he's hiding. And the Serb leadership in Belgrade understands the same thing. They desperately want to see their country recognized and accepted and working in a normal way with NATO and the European Union. And, frankly, none of that is possible as long as these two individuals are at large.

I said to Mr. Cavic today you know the problem, from a very practical point of view, is that two individuals, Karadzic and Mladic, are standing in the way of the progress of all Serbs, in Serbia and Montenegro as well as the Kosovar Serbs, and the Serb people of this country. All of your neighbors in Europe over the last 15 years since the end of the Cold War have become more prosperous, and safer, and they have become tied to the two Euro-Atlantic institutions: NATO and the European Union. But the people of your country, this country and Serbia and Montenegro, do not have that opportunity, and that's because they have not looked squarely at the past, and dealt with it, and overcome the past by making sure that these two people end up in The Hague. That is the problem that Bosnia and Herzegovina has, specifically Banja Luka; that's the problem the Government in Belgrade has.

So, the timetable is not ours, the timetable is yours. And it's very easy to resolve this problem. I told Mr. Cavic, and I told the Tri-Presidency: the day after Karadzic arrives in The Hague, my country will support Bosnia and Herzegovina for partnership with NATO. And the day after Mladic arrives in The Hague, my country will support Serbia and Montenegro for Partnership for Peace with NATO. It's that simple. These two people are a great symbol of all that was wrong here in this region during the Bosnian war, and we cannot accept normal relationships with these two countries until these two countries have dealt with that problem. So, two individuals are hurting millions of people. The economic advantages that will come with the normal trade relationship with the United States and with Europe, the political and security advantages that come with NATO and the European Union -- all of that is being denied to people of this region because of two individuals who refuse to give themselves up for the crimes that they surely committed during the Bosnian wars.

QUESTION: Mirza Curo, Nezavisne Novine. Is there a timetable for the establishment of a strong state government, strong parliament, and strong prime minister, and will that take place before the next elections, scheduled for the fall next year? Also would you explain to me what "single Presidency" stands for?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's not up to the United States to set a timetable. It is up to the leadership of this country to decide that it's time to move on from the 10 years of the Dayton Accords and as they've been applied to date, to modernize them, and to seek a more normal and effective governing structure. A single Presidency means a single Presidency you have one President, not three. A strong Prime Minister means a strong Prime Minister; you'd have a strong Prime Minister that most European countries have. A strong and effective parliament is what the United States has, what most, all European countries have. Bosnia and Herzegovina emerged from war, was given the 10 years of the Dayton Accords, and the Dayton Accords will continue into the future, but they have got to be flexibly administered, and flexibly interpreted. And we cannot make that decision. The people of the region have to make that decision.

Now you have a start with defense reform -- that was a significant step forward -- the creation of the single Defense Ministry, and that's what that means, one Defense Minister, one army, not multiple numbers. You have a start with police reform. We think police reform is going to be fundamentally important in breaking down some of the divisions that have existed in this country. And I understood what I heard today from the Tri-Presidency, as well as the Bosnian Serb leadership, that all options are open on police reform, including the shape of police districts. I know Ambassador McElhaney said that when the police reform agreement was announced, and I'll say it again to support him. That's what we heard today. All options are open as this agreement is interpreted. That is a very significant step forward for this country.

QUESTION: Fedzad Forto, Federal News Agency, Sarajevo. Mr. Burns, is your presence in Sarajevo today in any connection with the negotiations between the Department of State and Bosnian Ministry of Foreign Affairs regarding the future role and stay of American troops in Bosnia and Herzegovina, currently being held in Sarajevo? Can you provide us with more details concerning that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you. One of the things that I did was to thank the Tri-Presidency, and I mentioned this specifically to President Tihic, to thank them for the hospitality that the people of this country have given American troops for 10 years. We still have a NATO mission, as you know, a NATO headquarters in this country, and the Presidency let me know that American troops would always be welcome here, and I thanked them for that. I also thanked the Tri-Presidency for having sent young people of this country to Iraq to serve with our soldiers in a very dangerous environment. I remember when I was here in June; they had just left the day before. And now, some of them have come back, and others are going, and we very much appreciate the contribution of the troops of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the efforts in Iraq to help stabilize that country and to help the Iraqis find a way forward to peace.

So, I told President Tihic, we have an excellent relationship with him and with this government, and we are grateful for that relationship. We will be a great friend of this country as you proceed, as you modernize your state institutions, and as you face all the challenges in the future.

QUESTION: Faruk Boric, Dani Magazine, once again: I have a question, what if the local authorities don't achieve any progress until 10th anniversary of Dayton? Will there still be a high-level ceremony in Dayton or from the United States Government?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, they have already achieved progress on the defense and police reform. And now, we are looking for a clear and unequivocal statement, especially form the Bosnian Serbs, about the fact that Karadzic should end up in The Hague, and we are looking for a clear statement that constitutional reform will be an ambition, and based on what I heard today, both those statements will be made. So, we expect the meetings in Washington to take place, and there will be very serious substantive meetings, but there will also be, in addition to that, a ceremony to mark the 10 years since Dayton. We will consider this to be a very significant international event, we would expect all of you to be there to cover it, all the TV, and radio, and print reporters will be there. I invite you all to come to Washington. We cannot pay for your trip, but you are welcome to come. We expect to have worldwide coverage of this. It's been awhile since the people of the world focused on this region. They should focus on it, because there are positive things happening, and there are greater things to come, we believe.

Released on October 14, 2005

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