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N Burns to the Press at the US Office in Pristina

Remarks to the Press at the U.S. Office in Pristina

Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Pristina, Kosovo
October 13, 2005

CHIEF OF MISSION GOLDBERG: Good afternoon everyone. I am sorry we are few minutes late. I think you all know Ambassador Nicholas Burns -- who is the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, the number three position at the State Department -- has visited Kosovo many times before. [This is] his second time here as Under Secretary; he was here in June. We had a chance this morning to meet with many of Kosovo's leaders of the Albanian community, of course, and with the Serb community just a short while ago. And from here we have an event in the Obilic Municipality with the youth group involved with bringing Serb and Albanian young people together. And from here he goes to Belgrade. So, without further ado, Ambassador Burns.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. Thank you very much for waiting. I apologize for keeping you waiting. We had a very fast day today, (inaudible). Let me just tell you why we are here and give you a few words about the American perspective in the Balkans and I will be very happy to answer your questions.

First, we do see the Balkans region as a region of great hope, great change, great possibilities for the future. If you think about where the Balkans are 15 years after the breakup of Yugoslavia and the former Soviet Union, unfortunately the Balkans have not received -- like many of the Baltic countries -- the benefits of the post-Cold War changes that you see in Bulgaria and Romania, and you certainly see in other parts of Central Europe. And many of the people of this region have been victims of the wars here in the past 15 years, but we see 2005 -- the close of it and the beginning of 2006 -- as a period of great opportunity for the people in Bosnia, and of Kosovo, and of Serbia to put that past behind them, to seek new relationships with the European Union and NATO in each case.

In Bosnia, as they build on defense reform and police reform, to think about the issue we talked about yesterday in Sarajevo: constitutional reform, the creation of the single Presidency, of the stronger Prime Minister, of a more effective Parliament, of a more integrated unitary state, and in effect a modernization of the Dayton Accord. In Serbia, where we will be tonight to have dinner with President Tadic, where we'll be tomorrow to see Prime Minister Kostunica and President Dukanovic and Foreign Minister Draskovic: Serbia is the keystone state of the region; it's a country that is ought to be growing economically but doesn't have an orientation towards NATO and the European Union. But it's a country that hasn't dealt with all elements of its past. It has not arrested or has sought the voluntary surrender of Miladic and Karadzic and therefore has no possibility of a relationship with NATO and Partnership for Peace, or a relationship with the European Union or membership. It's a country that doesn't have the investment it should have, despite the efforts being made by a lot of countries, because it hasn't dealt with the problems from its past, and it's a country that needs to deal in a fair way here in Kosovo, which brings me to Kosovo.

Our hope is that 2005 -- the last two months of it and the first months of 2006 -- will be years, months of great change in Kosovo. There is a historic opportunity for the people of Kosovo now to define their own future. And today we meet with the Kosovar Albanian leadership, we meet with the Kosovar Serb leadership, we had the great pleasure with meeting with Dr. Rugova, and after we meet with you we are going to go out and meet with some young people, some high school students who represent all the communities of Kosovo and who work together and study together and try to create friendship together, which is a very healthy and positive sign -- and that is why we are going to meet them, near Obilic.

What I said today to the various political leaders is that they need to be prepared now for final status talks to begin quite shortly. The U.S. supports very strongly the Secretary-General of United Nations, as he will soon appoint a special envoy to lead these final status talks. The U.S. believes it's high time these talks began. Its been six and a half years since the end of the war in June 1999, and the people of Kosovo have a certain right to know that the status quo is going to be changed -- not that it's just not sustainable; it's going to be changed, that something better is going to take its place, and that they will have more freedom and more accountability and more responsibility to conduct their own affairs as a result of these negotiations.

And there are lots of options on the table, as Secretary-General Kofi Annan said last week. Independence is on the table as an option. There are other options as well. So now its going to be incumbent upon the Kosovar Albanian leadership, the Kosovar Serb leadership and Serbian Government in Belgrade -- all of them -- to sit down under United Nations supervision to listen to each other to try to define a common future that will be free of violence, free of intimidation, that will respect the rights not just of the majority but of the minority population, specifically the Kosovar Serbs; and to define a future that would be better than what is existing now. It is not for the United States or any other country to say what that future should be, so my country is not supporting any specific option; this has to be the responsibility of the people who live here and it's also the responsibility of Serbia and Montenegro. And so we hope to see very shortly -- in the next 30 days -- that talk will begin; countries and peoples will talk together about the best way for them.

We hope that the Kosovar team will be united; we hope specifically that the Kosovar Albanian team is actually going to be a team of unity. I met with the "Team of Unity" today; first of all I met with President Rugova and then I met with the members of the team -- five of them together. And I said to them, "if you stay together, if you have a united position, if you negotiate along one strategic line, you will be successful and you will earn the respect of the International Community. You will certainly be able to speak with one voice to the Serb Government in Belgrade. But if you disunite and this is more like Rambouillet, then there are going to be problems and difficulties for the Kosovar Albanians in these negotiations."

It's very important that they be unified. It's very important that the Kosovar Serbs have the right to a distinctive voice in these negotiations. Now I don't know whether the Kosovar Serbs will be seated together with the Kosovar Albanians or separately or with the Government in Belgrade. That is not up to us; that is up to Kosovar Serbs to decide. But they have a right to have a voice in these negotiations. They have a right to say what they want and we had a very very good meeting with the three leaders of that community. We were impressed by them and we hope they will have a right to speak up during these negotiations.

Let me just conclude by saying KFOR is here, NATO is here -- 18,000 soldiers. We have been keeping the peace for six and a half years. We implore the parties for these negotiations not to use intimidation, or the threat of violence, or violence itself as a tactic in negotiations. We remember, as do all of you, what happened in March 2004. You remember that Serb homes that were burned and the Serb churches that were burned and Serbs who were killed by the mob here. And there is no place for that in UN-sponsored negotiations. We met at NATO two days ago, all 26 allies, and we confirmed that KFOR is strong, that KFOR has resolved some of its contradictions in its own force that were apparent in March 2004 and that NATO is prepared to go into the streets to protect innocent people and to protect civil order and to guarantee the peace during this period. We hope very much that it will be a peaceful period so that the Kosovar people can find their way forward to their own future.

Having made those remarks in a preliminary basis I would be very happy to take whatever question you have. Yes, sir?

QUESTION: Ambassador, who would be the U.S. envoy in the negotiation? Does Marti Ahtisaari have the support of your government? And, I have another question

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Can I answer that question first because there are actually two of them, and then I will be happy to take any other questions that you have? First it's up to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to announce the identity of the Special Envoy. It's not for me to announce that, so we are waiting for that to happen. We think it will happen in the third week of October at the U.N. Security Council meeting in New York. So, we will be there when the Secretary-General makes his announcement and then we can talk about the person and our great respect obviously for the person who the Secretary-General will name.

Second, the United States intends to be very actively involved in these talks. Now, we are going to support the UN Special Envoy and you would expect that because it is going to be very important for the international community also to be united and a fair arbiter in these talks. So we will be fully supportive of the Secretary-General of the UN and of his envoy and we will appoint a Special American Envoy who will work very closely with the United Nations.

But it stands to reason that the U.S. would be involved in the talks on a very intensive basis, given the fact that we made a great difference here with NATO in 1999 and we have been fundamentally involved here. We have our Ambassador Philip Goldberg who has been here and is highly respected, I can say that, by all the parties, and so I think you will find active involvement of the United States and active involvement of many European Countries. We would expect that NATO would be part of this negotiating effort as would be the European Union, as well.

QUESTION: Has the international community a clear platform for solving the status and what would be the role of decentralization in this process?

AMBASSADOR BURNS: Well, decentralization is a very important part of the standards process that has been underway for a number of years and it has to continue because given the societal make up of Kosovo, and given the history of Kosovo. It is very important that the minority rights be respected and guaranteed, and decentralization is one of the ways whereby that can be achieved. The international community -- I think it is very united; we are a member of the Contact Group; we met very recently in New York three weeks ago; we had I had discussions in Brussels with most of the members of Contact Group on Tuesday and I think all of us see this as a great opportunity an a unique opportunity. And one of the other messages that I gave to both the Kosovar Albanian and Kosovar Serb leaders today was to say, "don't miss this opportunity: it doesn't happen very often that the people are given the chance to really write their own future." That opportunity is being afforded by the United Nations and so I think you will find a very much united international community that will work well together.

But our job is to provide a platform, an environment, a table, chairs, arbitration, referee, perhaps some ideas. But our job is not to make decisions. Our job is to provide the environment. It's up to the people of Kosovo, it is up to the Serb community, it's up to the Government in Belgrade to help make some of those decisions. I should say this: we don't believe in any of the parties of negotiations having a veto over the negotiations, and we don't believe this negotiating train can be stopped; it's got to move forward. It's the will of the international community and it's certainly the will of the great majority of people who live here that there has to be negotiations. So no vetoes, and therefore we will expect that everyone will show up at the talks.

QUESTION: You have said that the discussions might start in the next 30 days. Do we know when these discussions will be finished? I mean, do we have this limited time where they are going to finish, and do we know when Kosovo will have status?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We don't know the answer to that question. I think you know once the United Nations Envoy is appointed, he or she will need to develop a strategy for the negotiations, a framework in concert of the course with the members of the Contact Group, including my own country, and he or she will want to be in touch with all the parties here and certainly in touch with the government of Belgrade, to decide where should these negotiations be held, what shape should they take, the general time limit-- all this is to be decided. And one of the reasons I came to Pristina today was to ask these questions, and I asked the Kosovar Albanian leadership as well as the Serb leadership how do you see the negotiations? Do you want a long negotiating period or short negotiating period? What are the issues of greatest importance to you? What are you prepared to come to the table with? Are you united in your community? So I think the answer to your question would be answered here, as well as answered by some of the major international actors who will be participating.

QUESTION: Belgrade and Pristina have shown very little sign of giving ground on negotiating stances. What would the international community do if there is no agreement between them?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we never want to think -- I understand the question, it is a very good question, based on the history of the region, but we wouldn't want to start negotiations thinking in a negative way. I think we have to have some hope as we start the negotiations that there can be an agreement. What I have said today, in addition to appealing for unity, is to appeal for compromise. And it is interesting that this seems to be a controversial subject here, that one would argue for compromise and negotiations. And I told some of the interlocutors today that you can't have a negotiation without a compromise. Yitzhak Rabin, late Prime Minister of Israel used to say you don't negotiate with your best friends, you negotiate with your adversaries. That's why you negotiate and here you have a situation where there has been a war, a bitter war; there has been violence and death. And so the people who sit down with each other would have been on opposite sides of the barricades in prior years. It's terribly important that they come to the negotiations willing to listen to each other, that they don't come with immutable demands on the first day, and that they have a spirit of compromise, because there has never been a fair and democratic open negotiation in the history of the world that didn't entail compromise.

And so, from an American perspective, the people of Kosovo -- of all communities -- need to be prepared for compromise. The Serb government in Belgrade needs to be prepared to compromise as well, obviously.

QUESTION: Can I follow up?


QUESTION: What language does the international community have to get that compromise?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I think that you the greatest leverage actually is just for the people of this region to look around in their neighbors, to look around and see what has been accomplished in these region since the end of communism in Yugoslavia and the end of the Warsaw Pact in Soviet Union, to see the rising living standards, the rise in per capita income, the better health, improved education, the peace and security in which Poland and Hungary and Bulgaria and Rumania live, Slovakia and Slovenia and Croatia. The people of Kosovo deserve that -- that is the greatest incentive. I mean, you can talk about incentive or leverage -- they are really two sides of the same coin. I can also say, if you want to talk about leverage, that the international community cannot be here forever, cannot referee between Serbs and Albanians forever. It's time that this situation move to a new phase and that the people here move to a new level of self-governance and of running their own affairs. There will come a time when the EU and UN and NATO are not needed. That time may be far into the future, but you've got to -- people here have to design that future. And that is leverage, too; that is certainly leverage. And we also said that we will not tolerate which is a form of leverage; we won't tolerate violence we certainly are not going to tolerate a continuation of the status quo. The situation has to change and there are all sorts of options of how it can change and in which time scales. But that process has to begin in the next 30 days. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Whether there is a policy of double standards, if in one side The Hague Tribunal indictee gets a permission to get involved in politics and on the other side Belgrade is conditioned to hand over The Hague Tribunal suspects. What do you think about that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't think this is a question of I would respectfully say to you, I do not think it's a question of double standards. And I will tell you why: all of us, when we created the war crimes tribunal in The Hague agree to abide by its dictates and by its regulations and by its decision. And the war crimes tribunal has indicted Mr. Haradinaj. It's also made a decision to allow him, on a very limited basis, to return to some aspect of the political life here in Kosovo, but that is going to be regulated by the United Nations. And so, that's a decision that the United Nations and United States and all the other governments need to respect, because we are all members of that tribunal and we agreed to abide by the wishes of the tribunal. When the tribunal calls for the witnesses we need to send them. When the tribunal indicts people they need to go and stand before the tribunal itself. On the other hand, we a situation in Serbia today where people who are widely suspected of being war criminals -- General Mladic and Radovan Karadzic -- are free men and they have been free for 10 years. But we know that they ordered the massacre of the 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica in July 1995 and we know that they ordered other massacres. And why it is that the Serb Government hasn't arrested them in 10 years why have they not used their many powers to influence their voluntary surrender is a very good question. What we have been saying for many years, and I will say it again today: that we will not have a normal relationship with Serbia and Montenegro, and they will certainly not have American support to begin a relationship with NATO, until Mladic is arrested. And if Karadzic is on Serb soil and many people suspect that he is, then the Serb Government is responsible for his arrest as well. We try to be fair about this -- we said to the Croatian government, a friend of United States, we cannot support you for NATO membership until you arrest General Gotovina. We didn't establish these standards, we didn't indict these people, but the United Nations did, the War Crimes Tribunal did, and all of us have to respect those decisions. So, I think this is a fair process. I don't think it's a process of double standards.

QUESTION: Which is the best place to start the negotiations?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Which is the best place? I think that will be up to the Kosovar leadership the Serb Government and United Nations. I think they should make that decision. All negotiations are different. They all take different forms. Dayton was a very particular negotiation 10 years ago and it's probably not a good example for now and needs to come. Rambouillet was a different set, as well. And so, this is going to a unlike negotiations with an unlike cast of participants, and it will be up to all participants and the major arbiter of United Nations to decide that question. I think it will be decided fairly shortly.

QUESTION: Have you reconsidered what, if Serbian radicals win elections (inaudible) solutions or you would stop negotiations?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think our message to the Serb government is going to be, this evening and tomorrow: you need to be involved in these negotiations. And they don't really have a choice if you look at their self interests, because negotiations are going to go ahead. And so, Serbia needs to be there and we think Serbia will be there. But no member of this negotiation has a veto for the negotiations. That is an important principal. Yes, sir.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, at the beginning of your speech you have said that independence is an option and after that you have said that it should be needed one compromise in the end. Does it mean that you see independence as a compromise?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It depends how you look at that, it depends who you are, where you stand, where you sit. Kofi Annan said the -- Secretary-General Annan -- said on Friday that independence is one of the options. It surely is one of the options that will be on the table, but there will be other points of view and there will be other options and it really it won't be my country that defines those options. It will be the people doing the negotiations, the people who are the active participants. I think the only thing, from an American perspective, that I would say is that we don't believe the status quo is an option. The continuation of the governing structure of the last six and a half years well, it worked well after the war to calm tensions and to provide a period of peace and security but that is not the status quo is not an answer. So the status quo has to change. There has to be something different that emerges out of these negotiations that is very much in the American thinking.

QUESTION: Mr. Ambassador, you are saying that the negotiations will be Kosovo Albanian team and Kosovo Serb team to negotiate with the Serbian Government. Why not Kosovar side to negotiate with the Serbian side?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that is a fair question. I actually didn't say I actually don't know who will be seated around the table. I think that we are pretty sure that the Kosovo Albanians will be there. We know they will be there, hopefully with a united team, not a divided team. That may be an open question, but hopefully with a united team. We very much expect the Serb government to participate in these talks. The big question is the Kosovar Serbs: will they be an independent delegation? Will they be with the Kosovar Albanians, as you suggest, or will they be with a Serb Government? And that is really a decision that I think they have to work out with the Belgrade, and again we don't want to be too prescriptive. We don't want to give to much advice, but it will seem to us that the Kosovar Serbs should have the ability to speak, to represent the people of Mitrovica and all the other Serb Kosovar Serb communities in Kosovo.

Good. Thank you very much.

Released on October 20, 2005


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