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Nicholas Burns Briefing on US Strategy for Kosovo

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

Washington, DC
November 9, 2005

(4:10 p.m. EST)

MR. ERELI: Our briefer needs no introduction, but in the interest of those who aren't here and for the record, Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nick Burns will brief on the record on the Kosovo work plan and I'm happy to welcome Ambassador Burns.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Thank you very much. I testified this morning before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Kosovo and our preparation for the final status talks, so I'm very happy to answer any questions you have on that.

I just wanted to say in beginning that what you're seeing is a renewed and I think very energetic attempt by the United States to be very active in the Balkans, to complete in Bosnia what we began at Dayton ten years ago, which is the creation of a modern, single state that can take its place in the EU and NATO in the future. And in two weeks time, the Secretary is going to be hosting the Bosnian Tri-Presidency here, the three members of the Presidency, along with many of the other political party leaders in Bosnia to do two things:

One is to commemorate the Dayton Accords. It'll be the tenth anniversary of the signing of the Dayton Accords.

And the second is to look ahead and to see how they can modernize the Dayton Accords and create a more unified state.

And she will also be engaged in other events that day that we'll be letting you know about to honor some of our colleagues who died during the Bosnia negotiations and also to sign some agreements with the Bosnian Government that would indicate that a closer relationship with the United States.

Second, we continue our diplomatic efforts to convince the Serb Government in Belgrade and the Republika Srpska Government in Banja Luka in Bosnia-Herzegovina to give up the two indicted war criminals who are responsible for the massacres of ten years ago, Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. And I spoke this morning in the Senate about our withholding of a normal relationship with Serbia and Montenegro, specifically, until Mladic is turned over to The Hague.

Third, we are now initiating the Kosovo final status talks and we had here at the State Department last week the former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari and he is just about to be nominated by Secretary General Kofi Annan to be the final status envoy for the United Nations. I believe he'll be going out to the region in a couple of weeks time and the United States is fully supporting his mission. We will be naming an American envoy to these negotiations very soon and we intend to be fundamentally engaged. These are going to be very difficult negotiations, but they're necessary because the time has come to change the status quo and to give the people, the Albanians and the Serb populations of Kosovo, a chance to define their own future. They haven't had that opportunity in seven years.

So these are three elements of an American policy in the Balkans that is important, that is, I think, more vigorous than it has been in some time. And I'd be happy to talk about any aspect of this.

QUESTION: You said (inaudible) the outcome today. What of the outcome of the status talks? There will still be for a period of time a role for NATO to provide security for the United States -- for the United Nations to provide some kind of civil administration? That second aspect, what would that entail? Are they to supervise Kosovars?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There is an assumption that underlies at least the approach of the United States, but I believe the approach of all other interested countries, about the result of these negotiations, and that is that whatever the parties decide -- whether they decide to create an independent state or whether they decide to continue, perhaps, with expanded autonomy, to have Kosovo continue as part of Serbia and Montenegro -- there's an assumption that that new entity is going to require continued international support. There's hardly anyone who believes that the creation, for instance, of an indigenous military force, a true army, armed force, would be the right move as part of these final status talks. And that speaks to the need for continued NATO or international presence.

On the civilian side, there are several options. It could be a continued United Nations presence. It could be a European Union presence. There could be the development of what we've done so successfully in Bosnia, which is the High Representative's office. But clearly, no matter what the solution is that the parties decide, there has to be some kind of -- there will have to be some kind of transitional phase during which the international community will remain involved, perhaps not in the same way or shape or size of the international presence over the last six and half years, but this is a given in these negotiations and it's not something that's really being disputed by any of the parties.

QUESTION: If I can, you also talked about how the talks need to involve incentives because, obviously, the senators were worried that you have these diametrically opposed positions. So you were saying, well, we can build incentives into it. On the Serb side, that was that Serbia could be integrated into EU and NATO, but that appeared to clash with your other condition, which is they can't go ahead with the integration into NATO unless they capture the war criminals.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: They have to make a choice. If the Serb Government wants to be part -- fully part of NATO and the EU, they have to then act like it. There is no country in NATO or the EU that would allow an indicted war criminal to roam at large in a territory of that state. And in fact, Mladic has been at large for ten years and for eight of those years was protected fully by the Serb state, by the Serb military, by their own admission.

And so if they want to be treated by the United States, by NATO, as a country that is worthy of future membership or even a partnership, then they have to act like it and they have to arrest Mladic or convince him to surrender voluntarily. But that is an absolute prior condition to any Serb admission into the Partnership for Peace. I gave that message directly to Prime Minister Kostunica as well as President Tadic when I was in Belgrade three weeks ago.

QUESTION: Excuse me. Maybe I missed it while I was away, but where do we stand on the decertification or that whole issue in terms of if they don't hand them forward? Are we any further advanced on that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, you know, certification is a rolling process and back in June we did certify that over the course of the first five months of 2005 Serbia had turned, I think, by that time, ten individuals indicted for war crimes over to the tribunal in The Hague. And I think subsequent to that, they've turned three over.

We have other certification decisions to make ahead of us in the next half year. I don't want to anticipate what decisions Secretary Rice would make, but I would note that the continuing freedom of Mladic is a heavy factor and I would not think it would be an easy decision to make to certify as long as Mladic is at large. I wouldn't want to prejudge that decision because it's not mine to make; it's the Secretary of State's decision. But we have very strong feelings about this. We have very strong views about this here at the State Department and in our government. And that is that the Serbs need to take this decisive action to bring him to justice. The same is true of Karadzic, by the way, for the Bosnian Serbs.

QUESTION: Right. Just to follow up on that, I mean, this is what you've been saying for a while. I mean, we've been hearing this for a couple of months now. I mean --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We're very consistent here.

QUESTION: That's true. You are very consistent.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And there is virtue in consistency.

QUESTION: And I remember a couple of months ago you were very angry because you felt you were almost personally, you know, either betrayed or lied to, whatever, misled about, you know, the possibility.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, I didn't say that. I didn't say I'd been lied to.


UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I just said that a very strong expectation was created by the Serb Government back in June that Mladic would be -- his arrest was imminent. It didn't happen. And so I went to Belgrade and I told them how disappointed I was.

QUESTION: That's right. Okay. So my question is is that after months of this now, isn't -- why you seem to be so circumspect right now and just keep moving the date of reckoning further down the track?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I didn't think I was being circumspect, really. Maybe I've surprised myself. We think we're being very clear. We -- the United States has consistently taken the hardest position on this issue of any country in the NATO alliance and will continue in that vein because we simply believe that it's fundamentally inconsistent to begin to welcome a country onto the NATO membership track, and Partnership for Peace would be a first initial step, if that country hasn't complied with the United Nations War Crimes Tribunal in a celebrated case and if the object of that concern is a person who is responsible for a massacre that occurred ten years ago, 8,000 people killed. So we have strong views and we're going to keep to them. And I don't think we're being circumspect, but I think we're being very open and clear about it.

QUESTION: I guess I was referring in terms of the certification. Is it a statutory thing in terms of the dates or the time or --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Oh, yes, it's statutory.

QUESTION: Oh, okay.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yeah. And it will come up on the calendar and we'll let you know what decision the Secretary makes. But right now it's not heading in a very positive direction because there's this very large issue out there called Ratko Mladic.

QUESTION: Do you know, ballpark, about when it should come up or?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it's at the end of the year.

QUESTION: At the end of the year.




QUESTION: I mean, the previous question referred to a few months ago and you've been saying this for a while. Well, you know and I know you've been saying this for years. And I'm not trying to be funny. I mean, the U.S. can be as hard as it wants. It sounds like a broken record. And while it sounds good and while the aim is good, why isn't something happening or why aren't you doing more to put pressure on to make more happen? It seems like you say something and it rolls off like water off a duck's back.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't think so. For most of the last ten years, the Serbs obviously were not interested in bringing these people to justice. They didn't make any attempt to do that. But in the last year or two, the Serbs now see that they have -- the Serb Government has an opportunity to begin a membership track with the European Union and with NATO. And so now we've seen over the last year -- the last ten months -- action by the Serb Government on the 13 individuals that I talked about, transferred to The Hague.

We need to see action now on the biggest prize, which is Mladic, and we hope the same will be true of Karadzic. So there is leverage here. The Serbs are responding to it. It's very important that the United States and our other allies not weaken and not give into those who say that we should just forget about this and look to the future and bring Serbia into Partnership for Peace. That's not our view.

So I think the leverage is actually working if you look at the actions of the Serb Government. They just now need to get to the toughest question of all, which Mladic.

QUESTION: What are our allies doing or what are they not doing? And who could do more to help you get your -- reach your aim?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Our allies -- this is NATO policy actually, so we have a unified NATO position that Mladic should be turned over to the War Crimes Tribunal.


QUESTION: On Kosovo, I don't quite understand why, in your opening position, is there such a forthright opposition to the possibility of partition. I mean, there are plenty of other precedents flying around at the moment where the Bush Administration is willing to recognize redrawing borders. I mean, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict readily springs to mind. And if the two sides were to agree on a way of partitioning Kosovo, and there's an obvious way that one might do that -- plenty of people have drawn up maps in the past -- would that -- why do you have to rule that out that from the beginning?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's a perilous exercise to begin drawing -- for foreigners to begin to draw lines and redefine other people's reality, their borders.

QUESTION: We have done just that with Israel-Palestine.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And in the Balkans especially. And so it's not just the view of the United States. It's the view of all of our European allies that it would be a mistake to say that one of the options for the final status talks in Kosovo would simply to be redefine the borders, especially in a region where if you look south, there is a new country called Macedonia that actually is a very positive symbol for the Kosovars because it's a multiethnic country. There's another country called Albania.

We don't support any kind of greater Albania or irredentist Albanian state. There are people in that region who, you know, support that objective historically and we would not want to see that view materialize into one of the options that was considered at the negotiations. It would be a bad precedent. It would be a very bad way to begin these negotiations. There's absolutely no international support for it whatsoever. I haven't heard a single country support the view that somehow partition would be a good way to resolve this problem.

Mr. Lambros.

QUESTION: Secretary Burns, how do you assess the role of Greece in the Balkans, and particularly in the case of Kosovo?

AMBASSADOR HANFORD: Well, as I said this morning to the Senate in response to some of the questions being asked by Senator Sabanes, that the neighbors of Kosovo are going to have to play a concerted role in these negotiations because all of them will have a stake in the future of Kosovo. All of them can contribute, either politically or economically, to the ultimate solution.

Greece has a major responsibility because Greece, as you know, is the largest investor and largest trade partner with those close Southeast Europe Balkan neighbors, with Macedonia, Albania and with Kosovo. And one of the challenges to build a future Kosovo, whether it's independent or whether it's part of Serbia, will be to create jobs and to overhaul the economy which has been fractured by the events of the last 15 years. And Greek investment is going to be fundamental to that. Fundamental. So we see Greece as having a very important role and we've been in touch with the highest levels of the Greek Government on this. I've discussed this issue several times recently, this issue of the Kosovo talks, with Foreign Minister Molyviatis. And we're counting on Greece to play a very active and very constructive role.

QUESTION: In other words, do you consider Greece a strategic partner in the Balkan, as it was said by President Bush many, many times?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Of course we do. Yes, Greece is our -- Greece is one of our most important strategic partners in the Balkans.

Yes. Saul.

QUESTION: No one behind me. If Serbia can get into NATO ultimately by handing over Mladic and if ultimately Serbia can also enter the European Union similarly, what does it actually get or what can be the incentive for Serbia to give up Kosovo?


QUESTION: How do you persuade Serbia that this is in their interests? I mean, you talked openly in your testimony this morning about an independent Kosovo and how they can earn it. You clearly think it could be a viable state. What does Serbia get out of it?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Let's start with the fundamentals. It was Secretary General Kofi Annan who two weeks ago framed the Kosovo negotiations by saying that there were two plausible outcomes: either independence or continued and greater autonomy of Kosovo within Serbia and Montenegro.

I said this morning very clearly that the United States is not supporting either of those options. We're not a champion of either one. We believe that the proper way to resolve this is to have the parties to the conflict make this decision as to what their future is and then we'll support that outcome -- if it's a credible outcome, obviously. And that's an important principle that we not try to chart the future of these negotiations before they start.

Did I answer your question fully?

QUESTION: Well, not really.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Really? How would you like to follow up?

QUESTION: A follow-up on this. One -- you know, one can see how Kosovo can be induced to possibly accept greater autonomy because they would still be part of Europe and presumably could also be part of NATO through going to Serbia. But I don't see, on the other side of the equation, how independence produces anything that is desirable for Serbia.


QUESTION: And if you're going to be involved in this process that has two possible outcomes, how will you be, you know, lending your advice to this?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Without forecasting what we think the outcome is going to be or should be, I would answer your question by saying that one of the things that concerns us, one of the primary factors that concerns us going in these negotiations, is that at the end of them neither side emerges as a loser in the process.

Serbia and Montenegro to us is the keystone state in the Balkans. If the Balkans is going to be an area of increasing prosperity and stability, Serbia has to be a successful country. And this is going to be a extremely difficult negotiation for the Serbs because they -- a lot of their history, as you know, over the last 1,000 years, is tied up in Kosovo. A lot of their most important Serb Orthodox religious sites and churches and monasteries are in Kosovo.

And so paying attention to those issues -- churches, Patrimonial sites, religious symbols -- is going to be an important part of these negotiations. And giving Serbia the very clear sense that a successful outcome of these talks will actually add to the possibility of their future involvement with the EU and NATO is also going to be an important part of these negotiations.

You asked about incentives. I would say that those are the incentives. Those are among the incentives for the Serbs. And the other would be that -- and this is very much an outsider's perspective, obviously. We're not Serbs. We're Americans. But the Serbs have been at war or internal chaos or internal challenge for 15 years and they should -- they obviously -- if you go to Belgrade and talk to people, they want that period to end. They want to move forward. They want to finish with the end of Yugoslavia and get on with building a modern state.

Dealing with the Kosovo problem is a necessity, where you have a situation now where 90 percent of the people who live there are Albanians -- Muslims -- and that's a dramatic change from March of 1999 when the war began. So those are some of the incentives and realities that underline the issue for the Serbs as we see them.

QUESTION: Sir, can I just clarify that? Are you saying that a successful outcome to the Kosovo problem is a condition for Serbia to gain eventual NATO membership?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No. I said, actually, something very different.

QUESTION: You said it's an incentive.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I said that we think that a successful Kosovo final status talks should be the emergence of a stronger, healthier Serbia and Montenegro that has the prospect of future involvement with EU and NATO. That's different than what you just said I said.

QUESTION: Do you not see you're, turning it the other way around, saying if these talks are not successful because one or two of the parties will not agree, then Serbia cannot proceed to eventual NATO membership?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, I said what I said and I framed it the way I wanted to frame it because it represents our views. But I would also say that, you know, if on a hypothetical basis -- you don't want to go down this road too far -- but if the negotiations were not successful and if there were further turmoil in Kosovo, that's not going to help. That would not help the aspirations in any of the countries of the region for a future association with NATO and the EU, I would think.

But we have to present that these will be successful talks and it's going to be a more -- a positive outcome for all sides. That's our hope.

QUESTION: You're saying that to make it successful you want to have a clear sense that the talks are successful and will actually add to the possibility of Serbia entering into NATO and the EU.


QUESTION: Okay. That's the way you did frame it. But couldn't they get into NATO and EU anyway without doing anything on Kosovo?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think not because admission into NATO -- I can just speak about NATO, we belong to NATO, we don't belong with the EU -- would have to be by the consensus. All the countries would have to agree, including the United States. And I don't think anyone would take a country into NATO that had a major territorial dispute within it, in the heart of it, that had not resolved this huge question of the future of Kosovo. I don't think there's any possibility of that happening.

QUESTION: So it does sound like it's a condition for --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No. I framed it the way I wanted to frame it. And I framed it the way that we talk about it in real life, in real diplomatic terms. We tend to try to frame things positively when we talk to other governments.

QUESTION: Right. So how about this? If they hand over the war criminals that you want them to but don't sort out the Kosovo problem, can they get into NATO?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, Charlie taught me long ago, never to answer a hypothetical question like that.

QUESTION: But you --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: He'd be disappointed. He'd be disappointed. And I --

QUESTION: You were --


QUESTION: I tried --

QUESTION: You were asked by a senator, weren't you, is that the only condition? And I think you said yes.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, wait a minute. For Partnership for Peace. We've told the Serbs -- Partnership for Peace is not NATO membership. It's entry into a partnership program. It's short of membership. We've told the Serbs, if you would succeed in getting Mladic to The Hague, we'll support you the next day for Partnership for Peace. Membership is a much higher challenge that requires much greater efforts. So you have to distinguish between the two, and I answered the senator's question on Partnership for Peace.

Mr. Lambros, then I've got to take off.

QUESTION: Secretary Burns, you stated only today in the Senate, talking about the Kosovars you met in Pristina the other day, "I made clear to them that the independence must be earned." I am wondering why independence must be earned but not a compromise solution. May we assume that independence of Kosovo is the only solution, according to the U.S. policy?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, you know what I said today and I think you have my written testimony. I said there are two fundamental options and we support neither. But I did say that independence has to be earned because it's true, because if there is to be an independent state -- and I don't know if there will be or not -- then the people who would run that, the Kosovar Albanians and the Kosovar Serbs, need to demonstrate that they could manage the affairs adequately, that they have sufficient political unity, that they respect minority rights, that they would respect democratic freedoms -- all the other principles that are embedded in the guiding principles which we have sent to the parties at the start of these talks.

QUESTION: Sir, a follow-up. It is very important for the boundaries. You also said that, "There should be no change in the existing boundaries of Kosovo and no partition."


QUESTION: But the second (inaudible) you mentioned by the Kosovars means clearly the opposite and secession from Serbia. Could you please clarify this unclear status?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, it's not -- that's not contradictory. That's the position of the Contact Group and has been for six and a half years: There shall be no change in the internationally recognized borders of any of the states in the region and certainly no change to the borders of Kosovo itself. That is a different question than whether Kosovo remains as an autonomous province of Serbia and Montenegro or whether it become independent.

QUESTION: One more on Montenegro?


QUESTION: Well, Holbrooke said, you know, your testimony was dramatic, what you'd said about Montenegro and, you know, I'm not really --


QUESTION: Yeah, well, I'm not really understanding why.

QUESTION: Did you say something dramatic about Montenegro?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Do you want me to say something dramatic about Montenegro?

QUESTION: Is it that your sort of acceptance of a referendum that the Montenegrins want would be a referendum only on --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I heard him say -- I missed most of his testimony, but I was there out of respect for him at the beginning, obviously. And but I heard him say that he felt that there hadn't been high-level U.S. involvement with President Djukanovic in a number of years and that he was struck by the fact that we had had a meeting with Djukanovic. I had had a meeting and our Ambassador, Mike Polt, has had several meetings with him. He is the President of Montenegro.

And so that's what I took away from Ambassador Holbrooke's comments. It was the fact of the meeting, which was meant to recognize -- to recognize -- to convey respect. But the message in that meeting was that it's not our decision as to whether or not there is a referendum -- that's built into the constitutional charter of the state union of Serbia and Montenegro -- but that if a referendum is to be held, it has to be held following elementary democratic practices so that it could be seen to be a viable referendum. And that's the message that I brought to my meeting with President Djukanovic.

QUESTION: But a referendum that only involves Montenegrins? That would be okay with you? Or would it have to be --

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: If you look at the constitutional charter for the state union, both Serbia and Montenegro have the right to hold separate referendums, or a referendum in one part of the state union on the question of independence. There's no argument about that. The only discussion that I was involved in with President Djukanovic -- and really this is consistent with a lot of what the European allies have told him, the EU has told him -- and that is you've got to -- if you're going to hold it, you have to hold it in a democratic way, transparent, so the people know who the voters are and then people know how this vote was conducted so that people can have confidence that it was an unassailably democratic process.

Thank you. 2005/1060

Released on November 9, 2005


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