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N Burns to the Press at the US Embassy in Belgrade

Remarks to the Press at the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade

Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Belgrade, Serbia and Montenegro
October 14, 2005

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. It's a pleasure to be with you all. I apologize for keeping you waiting. So, we had a very good day today in Belgrade and last evening, as well, and meetings with the Serb leadership. This is my second trip to Serbia and Montenegro in the last five months, and I must say we had a good series of meetings. We met with President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, and with Foreign Minister Vuk Draskovic. We met with Serb students from the Faculty of Economics at the University. And we also met with Mr. Djukanovic.

Let me just say that I think that the United States would very much like to improve and expand our relationship with Serbia and Montenegro. That is what Ambassador Polt has been trying to do, and that is what we in Washington are trying to do. Indeed the United States remains the number one investor in Serbia and Montenegro. We have a growing defense and military relationship, which is profitable and beneficial to both of our both countries. We appreciate the leadership role that Serbia plays naturally in this part of the world.

I told President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica that it is strategic ambition of the United States to build this relationship into an even better one and stronger one. There are a number of challenges that remain. And first among them is the issue of the war criminals. We are very disappointed that General Mladic has not yet been given up to The Hague. We are disappointed that Radovan Karadzic is still at large and not in The Hague. These two individuals are standing in the way of Serbia's progress with NATO and United States, as well as Europe. If they gave themselves up to The Hague, or if they were arrested, Serbia's prospects for a stronger relationship with my country would be vastly improved. And I made it very clear in all of our meetings that the strong will of the entire international community is that these men should be held accountable for the war crimes they surely committed in the 1990s.

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The second challenge is Kosovo. The United Nations final status talks will begin soon. The United States supports the United Nations process. We are not taking sides in this negotiation, but we know that the status quo in Kosovo cannot be sustained. We know there are many options on the table, and we expect and hope that there will be fair and open negotiations among the Kosovar Albanians, the Kosovar Serbs and, of course, the Serb government. This is a historic opportunity to change Kosovo and to produce a more peaceful and more stable place for all the people, Albanians and Serbs, who live there.

My final point and then I'll get to your questions. My delegation and I -- from the Pentagon, from the White House, from the State Department -- have been in Brussels, in Sarajevo, in Pristina, and in Belgrade this week, and the most hopeful meetings we had were with young people. In Sarajevo, we met with a group of young Serbs, Croatians and Muslims who are working together to breakdown the remaining ethnic divisions in Bosnia-Herzegovina. In Kosovo, we met last evening with extraordinarily courageous young high school students from Mitrovica. And these Serb and Albanian students, whose lives are separated by the bridge, are trying to create a virtual bridge to unite Serbs and Albanians. And today we met with young Serb students at the Faculty of Economics.

I must say I was struck by the fact that in each of these three meetings in three different places, they were the people -- of all the people we met -- who were the most courageous in putting forward the proposition that people of different faiths and nationalities should be able to live together. I didn't hear this message in Kosovo from the political leaders, but we heard it from the students. And we hope what they are doing will represent the future of Kosovo, of Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as of Serbia. I am happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Burns, can you predict the impact of the latest Hague Tribunal decision on the process of negotiations about Kosovo? The Hague has decided to grant Haradinaj [the ability] to be politically active. Can you predict the impact of that decision on the process of negotiations?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I really cannot predict the impact of this decision. Of course, this was not a United States Government decision. This was a decision of the Tribunal, and we are pledged to support the Tribunal. I was told in Pristina yesterday that this is a rather limited decision and that the United Nations will have to give its express agreement in each occasion when Mr. Haradinaj wants to attend a political meeting. Our hope is for a successful negotiation and that is what we predict will occur.

QUESTION: Thank you. Can I just ask one more short one about Montenegro? Is there a possibility that the referendum in Montenegro planned in April next year can prevent stability in the region?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know this referendum is really the business of the State Union, and what I did tell Mr. Djukanovic today is the following: If this referendum is to be held, it should be done in a way that conforms to international standards. And that means that the advice of the Venice Commission, of the Council of Europe, of the OSCE, should be listened to so that it meets the test of a fair and democratic referendum.

QUESTION: Last time you were here you were quite optimistic with the (inaudible) of the Serb authorities to arrest, or to convince Mr. Mladic to surrender to the Hague Tribunal. Can you reveal to us now what made you at the time so optimistic and are you disappointed with the performance of the Serbian authorities related to Mladic's arrest?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, we are disappointed. I don't remember saying that we were optimistic, but we certainly were given the impression that the arrest of General Mladic was imminent, and it did not happen. And so, we have to judge the Serb government on its actions. We heard from all members of the Serb government with whom we met, that they all believe -- the President, the Prime Minister, the Foreign Minister -- that Mladic will give him self up or be arrested and that he should go to The Hague. And we heard they feel the same about Karadzic. And it would be very helpful if there could be consistent public appeals from the leadership that these people should give themselves up.

But what I've been saying here for a solid week is that United States will not support Serbia for membership in the Partnership for Peace of NATO until Mladic is arrested. That is our policy and it is not going to change. So yes, we are disappointed and it is really Serbia and Montenegro that is going to suffer the consequences because it won't have the proper relationship with the United States and Europe until this gentleman Mladic and until Karadzic are in The Hague.

QUESTION: What would be the position of the United States special representative when talks come on the future status of Kosovo? What would be the position and the role of the U.S. special representative?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There is a great historic opportunity now to have successful negotiations on Kosovo. This is the time for a decision to change the status quo, and it should be a time of decision about the future of Kosovo. My country intends to be very actively involved in these negotiations, and we will be so in support of United Nations, which will have the lead. We will appoint an American envoy who will work in support of the lead United Nations negotiator. I think, given our past involvement in Kosovo and given the credibility, frankly, that we have in Kosovo this is a sensible arrangement. The people of Kosovo, both the Albanian and Serb populations, they should have the opportunity to determine their own future. And they need to do that in conjunction with the Serb Government, which will be at the negotiating table with them.

QUESTION: Why does the international community not exclude the term independence of Kosovo, while at the same time you are pushing Serbs and Croats together in the same Bosnia-Herzegovina, the same unitary state?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Secretary-General Kofi Annan said a week ago today that independence is an option for the future of Kosovo, and of course there are other options such as an expanded autonomy. What is not an option is the status quo. The great majority of Kosovar Albanians want independence. Serbia, the government of Serbia and Montenegro and Kosovar Serbs will have to discuss this with them and will have to negotiate. But it is not the United States that will decide this; it will be the people of Kosovo as well as the government here in Belgrade.

It is important to note that no party to these negotiations will have a veto over the negotiations. This situation in Kosovo, as you know very well, is fundamentally different than the situation in Bosnia- Herzegovina. We are asking, frankly, that all people live together in Kosovo, Serbs and Albanians, and that Serb minority rights be respected, and that was the message I took directly to the Kosovar Albanian leadership yesterday. And for 10 years since the Dayton Accords we've asked for the same thing in Bosnia-Herzegovina: that Serbs, Croats and Muslims live together.

QUESTION: Are you disappointed because today, talking to our officials? You got the impression that Karadzic and Mladic will not be extradited to The Hague soon?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: When the Dayton Accords were signed 10 years ago this coming November, the parties to the Dayton Accords pledged to uphold the provisions of the War Crimes Tribunal, and that has not happened in the case of Mladic and Karadzic. It's the obligation of the Serb government, Serb-Montenegrin government -- and I made this point to both Prime Minister Kostunica and to President Tadic, as well as to Mr. Djukanovic -- it's their obligation to find these people and to arrest them. And when I met Mr. Cavic of Republika Srpska, I made the same point to him; I said, "it's your obligation to speak out and to call for the arrest of Karadzic," and he said he will do so.

We've invited the leadership of Bosnia-Herzegovina to Washington to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Dayton, and we expect that when they will be there, they will call for the arrest of Karadzic and Mladic. They promised us they will do so.

QUESTION: Do you think that the negotiations about Kosovo's status could or should be held at the same time as discussions about the status of Montenegro inside of the State Union?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's not a decision for us to make. We have nothing to do with the referendum in Montenegro. But we have a lot to do with the Kosovo final status talks, and those Kosovo final status talks must go forward very soon.

Let me just say in closing that it's been a pleasure to be here in Belgrade. I think we have an increasingly good relationship with the government, despite these areas of difference, and I congratulated President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica on the fact that both the United States and Serbia will be in Germany for the World Cup in 2006. Perhaps we'll meet there on a football field.

Thank you very much.

Released on October 20, 2005


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