The most important piece of advice the United States can offer the people of the Balkans is that "they should see this as a hopeful time," a senior U.S. State Department official told journalists in Pristina, Kosovo, June 8.
R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, began his press conference by briefing journalists on his meetings in Pristina and on the process the United States hopes will result in talks to determine the final status of Kosovo.
The United States believes that "2005 should be a year of change in Kosovo," he said, noting that United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has appointed Norwegian Ambassador to NATO Kai Eide as his special envoy to carry out a comprehensive review of Kosovo's progress in meeting U.N. benchmarks, or standards, for political, economic and security reforms.
Burns said he hopes the standards review will show that that all the parties in Kosovo are committed to working on decentralization, tolerance for all minority groups, and the "right of all minorities to live here and to return here; and especially, looking at the heart of this issue, that the Kosovar Albanian majority would stand up clearly and say that Serbs have a right to live in Kosovo."
"It's that sense of the tolerance that has to be at the heart of any kind of political settlement," he added.
Burns' delegation of U.S. officials from the White House, the State Department and the Defense Department had earlier visited Bosnia and Herzegovina and was scheduled to proceed to Serbia and Montenegro later in the day.
"If Ambassador Eide's advice to the United Nations is that it's time to move forward to further define the political status of Kosovo, then the United States government will firmly support the beginning of final status talks," Burns said.
If the final status talks proceed, he continued, "the United States would intend to be engaged in a central way." The United States would appoint a senior American diplomat to be part of an international negotiating team led by Europeans, he said.
"I gave a commitment to the Kosovar Albanian and Kosovar Serb leaders today, and that is that the United States is going to remain centrally involved in this process, diplomatically involved," Burns said, adding that the United States will also maintain its military presence in KFOR, the international security force in Kosovo, "as a symbol of our commitment to a future peaceful and secure Kosovo."
Burns declined to say what the United States thinks Kosovo's future status should be. "It is not up to foreigners, Americans or Europeans, to decide the future of Kosovo," he said.
"We support a process that will lead to peace and security. But we're not going to give public advice; we're not going to take sides; we're not going to say we're for this or that. We're going to say we're for peaceful negotiations and for compromise, and for tolerance," said Burns.
However, the United States does intend to "insist on compromise, insist on a process that will lead to a decision and not to no decision," Burns said.
One of the messages Burns said he will bring to Serbia and Montenegro "is that there needs to be a sense of compromise from Belgrade as well. There needs to be a recognition that it's not possible to retrieve the past; it is not possible to recreate the past that's vanished from the 1990s. And that they need to encourage the Kosovar Serb community to participate fully in ... the Assembly here, and the politics here."
For final peace to arrive, he said, "leaders have to have courage, and they have to take chances, and they have to look forward not backwards."
Burns also reiterated the message he delivered during his visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina June 7: More progress needs to be made in bringing indicted war criminals to justice.
Following is the State Department transcript:
U.S. Department of State
June 10, 2005
Press Availability in Pristina
R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for
U.S. Office Pristina, Kosovo
June 8, 2005
MR. GOLDBERG: Good afternoon everyone. I am Philip Goldberg, the Chief of Mission at the U.S. Office and I want to first apologize for being a little bit late this afternoon. We ran a little bit behind on the many meetings that Ambassador Burns had today, with the Government, with the opposition and so forth, and with the members of the Serb Community we just came from a meeting with Bishop Teodosje, who came up from the Decani Monastery. So we had a very full day. I'll turn it over to him, I just wanted to introduce him. You probably all know that Ambassador Burns is the number three official at the State Department, but the number one career official there, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. And a great [Boston] Red Sox [baseball] fan as well, as am I -- so Ambassador Burns.
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Good afternoon. Phil, thank you very much for that very generous introduction. It's nice to see you all. I apologize for keeping you waiting. We have had an extraordinarily interesting day here in Pristina and I want to thank Phil Goldberg and all of his colleagues at the U.S. Mission here for hosting us. We met first this morning with the members of the government, Dr. Rugova, and with the Prime Minister and with the Speaker of the Assembly, and various other officials in the Kosovar Albanian leadership. We also met with the opposition the Albanian leadership and we met with the Kosovar Serb opposition. We also met with his grace, Bishop Teodosje, whom I had met in Washington, when he participated in the Serb Orthodox Church delegation to Washington about six weeks ago.
And so we spent a lot of time today listening to all of these leaders talk about the future of Kosovo, and I explained that the position of the United States government is that we believe that the 2005 should be a year of change in Kosovo. It should be a year when the people of Kosovo, and the people who lead here in all the communities, would agree that the status quo is not sustainable, that there has to be a process to move forward. This situation has been essentially frozen as you all know since 1999, and it is now the considered judgment of the International Community specifically the Contact Group, in which the United States participates that the time has come for this process to move forward. And so we very much agree with Secretary General Kofi Anan, when he announced the appointment of Ambassador Kai Eide, to look at the issue of standards this summer, and to make an assessment of the progress made on standards, and to report back to the United Nations Security Council and Secretary General.
It's our very strong hope that that process will show that all the parties here are committed to working on decentralization, are committed to working on tolerance for all the minority groups here, are committed to the right of all minorities to live here and to return here; and especially, looking at the heart of this issue, that the Kosovar Albanian majority would stand up clearly and say that Serbs have a right to live in Kosovo, that the Serb community has a right to grow in Kosovo, that people who left here for whatever reason have a right to come back here, as their predecessors have lived here for generations. It's that sense of the tolerance that has to be at the heart of any kind of political settlement.
And if Ambassador Eide's advice to the United Nations is that it's time to move forward to further define the political status of Kosovo, then the United States government will firmly support the beginning of final status talks. But one has to follow the other, and our government has been very clear about that, and I've been very clear about that. And we'll continue to maintain that the Standards review has to happen first and then the decision has to be made to go forward with final status talks. If those final status talks proceed, the United States would intend to be engaged in a central way. We would appoint a senior American diplomat to be part of the international negotiating team, which we would expect to be led by Europeans, as Kosovo is very much part of Europe. And in the larger sense, we think it's very much time to define the future of Kosovo. The reason being is that our larger strategic ambition, in our country, for Europe, is that it will be united and secure and peaceful. And that can only happen if the Balkans are part of it.
So this week Secretary [of State] Condoleezza Rice asked our delegation to travel to Sarajevo. And we met there with the tri-presidency yesterday and with various officials. Our message in Sarajevo was to remark upon the extraordinary progress that has been made in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but to ask that further progress be made particularly on the issue of war crimes. And that has some relevance with the situation here. Particularly in line with the appalling video tape that has been released that all of you have seen, about the atrocities that were committed in 1995, ten years ago. It's now time for the Serb leadership in Banja Luka as well as in Belgrade, as well as here, to stand up and say that the events of Srebrenica were among the worst human rights abuses of our time and certainly the worst since the Nazis, that on July 11, the victims, the families of the victims, will commemorate the tragic murder of 8,000 men and boys in Srebrenica. That has relevance for Kosovo, and has relevance for Serbia and Montenegro as well as for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
And we said yesterday that Karadic and Mladic must be arrested and extradited to the Hague, and they must stand trial for war crimes. And that will further be our message tonight when we go to Belgrade and have dinner with President Tadic, and foreign Minister Draskovic, and we look forward very much to that. We look forward to seeing President Marovic, and Prime Minister Kostunica tomorrow morning. Now what's interesting about that situation is that Prime Minister Kostunica has shown real leadership, for having facilitated the exit of 12 people from Serbia to the Hague for trial at the Tribunal. But also for having stood up last week to denounce what happened in 1995, and announce the arrest of six members of the Scorpions. And President Tadic has made similarly very bold statements, and courageous statements. We've not heard yet from the Banja Luka Serb leadership. We made that point yesterday in Sarajevo and make it again today. It has relevance for Kosovo, and the relevance is that there has to be a way to face the past honestly, by all the peoples and leaders of this region, in order to move forward.
And so it's our very strong hope that the leaders here in all the communities will recommit themselves to make the kind of progress on standards that has to be made before final status talks can begin. And if those status talks can begin, to then sit down in a spirit of compromise just as their predecessors did at Dayton, Ohio, ten years ago this November to agree in a future Kosovo where everyone can live together peacefully. That has to be the goal of the International Community, but more importantly, the people who live here and the leaders who work here. That was essentially the message that we left today.
It's been an extraordinary day. We spent a lot of time with the Kosovar Serb leadership, both religious as well as civilian. After I leave here, Phil Goldberg and I are going to Obilic, to meet some of the Kosovar Serb families who were victims of the March 2004 violence. And I will just conclude my opening comments with that.
One of the messages that I left today is that it is absolutely indefensible to threaten the use of force against minorities, or to use violence as a political tactic. And that's what happened in March 2004.People died and Serb churches were burned and Serb homes were burned, and that is unacceptable to the International Community. One of the more hopeful meetings that I had today was with a great French General, General Eve de Kermabon, and he has done a very good job in strengthening KFOR since March 2004. He assured me this morning that KFOR is ready to defend the people of Kosovo, all the people of Kosovo. KFOR is ready to act, should anyone decide that violence is the way. KFOR will protect the Serb religious sites, the churches and protect Serb homes, and protect the Serb population. It would be supremely ironic and tragic if, after the successful defense of the Kosovar Albanian population, from March to June 1999, by the United States and NATO where we very much believed in what we did and are very proud of what we did wouldn't it be tragic and ironic if now a situation arose where the minority population had to fear retribution, and had to fear violence, and didn't feel safe enough to return here and to live here? And so the real political objective of 2005 has to be to return Kosovo to a period of peace and stability so that the political leaders of Kosovo can be given a chance to define, finally after six years, the future political status of this place.
That was the message we left today. It's been an excellent day. I've been very pleased to be here. We look forward to coming back. I gave a commitment to the Kosovar Albanian and Kosovar Serb leaders today, and that is that the United States is going to remain centrally involved in this process, diplomatically involved. We will be a leader in this process, along with our European allies, and we are certainly going to maintain the American military presence here in KFOR as a symbol of our commitment to a future peaceful and secure Kosovo. Thank you very much for listening to me, I'm happy to take any questions.
QUESTION: Does U.S. consider independence as an option for the future of Kosovo?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We have very specifically said I gave a speech a couple of weeks ago in Washington DC, I also testified before our Congress, and I set out our Administration's policy on Kosovo, and I said very specifically that it is not up to foreigners, Americans or Europeans, to decide the future of Kosovo. The people of Kosovo should decide their future that would have to be a process of negotiations and compromise, but they're the only ones that can do it. We don't think it's possible to impose a peace or impose our ideas. So you've not heard the United States say we support this or that. We've very specifically said that we support a process that will lead to peace and security. But we're not going to give public advice; we're not going to take sides; we're not going to say we're for this or that. We're going to say we're for peaceful negotiations and for compromise, and for tolerance. And that's what we stand for.
QUESTION: Has Kosovo reached enough progress in the view of your government that these talks can commence, and by when do you feel that a new resolution of the Security Council should be passed?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, it's going to be up to Ambassador Kai Eide to provide advice to the United Nations as to whether or not sufficient progress has been made on the standards question, in order for the final status talks to begin. It's our strong hope that the leaders of Kosovo will now redouble their efforts to make the kind of progress on standards in June and July and August of this year in the next three months that will then allow the Secretary General of the United Nations to conclude that final status talks should begin.
We hope there will be final status talks. But, we don't know if there will be final status talks. It depends on all the political leaders of this region. It's very important to get that sequence right. I know I was quoted in The Guardian newspaper in Britain today as having said something different. What I said to the Guardian the other day in London and what I have consistently said, and what my boss, Secretary Rice has said is that we have to have stages here. There has to be a standards assessment, which will start on Monday, when Ambassador Eide arrives and we fully support Ambassador Eide. And then if that standards' process is successful, there will then subsequently be final status talks. We very much hope that all of that will take place, because we don't think the status-quo here is sustainable. And we think the change has to come, and it should come in 2005.
QUESTION: Will you allow unlimited negotiations?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's going to be up to United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan, and a negotiating team that's going to be appointed if final status talks take place in 2005, to determine the process and to determine whether it's a short negotiation or a long negotiation. But let me say this: it seems to us that it's the strong will of the International Community specifically of the Contact Group that change has to come. The people of Kosovo have waited six years, and they don't have a sense of what the future is because the International Community has tried to insist on a period of reform. We were right to do that. But now we think the time has come to move forward and give people a sense of what their future would be.
So when the train starts moving if it does move after this summer, if the standards' assessment is positive when that train starts moving towards the final status talks, that train is going to move. And it's going to move forward. That means that all the leaders of Kosovo need to be on that train. Kosovar Albanians must be willing to compromise. The Kosovar Serbs must be on the train, participating in the process, fully involved we hope they'll be in the Assembly, and we hope they'll participate and they will compromise. I use the word compromise, because: Phil Goldberg and I were at the Dayton Peace talks ten years ago, as a part of the American delegation. There wouldn't have been a solution at Dayton, on November 21, 1995 if the Croats, the Bosnians and the Serbs had not made fundamental compromises. That's the only way towards peace.
We are not going to impose a settlement; we're not going to even say what we support as a final compromise. But we'll insist on compromise, insist on a process that will lead to a decision and not to no decision. Because we don't believe it's possible to return to the status quo of 1998 or 1999. We believe that Kosovo needs to move forward towards a more just and peaceful society and that means change and that means compromise.
QUESTION: When would the U.S. like to see an agreement in place?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's not up to the United States. That's up to the people of Kosovo and to the leaders of Kosovo. What we'd like to see is sufficient progress made this summer and the objective assessment that Ambassador Eide will conduct, so that it will be possible to have the final status talks. And we'd like to see quick action, decisive action to move Kosovo forward. But again this is not in our hands. It's in the hands of the people and the leadership here.
QUESTION: You mentioned Dayton twice. Is that the model which you prefer, a couple of months of shuttle diplomacy which happened before Dayton, then a conference at a certain place with all the political players there?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I mentioned Dayton because something happened at Dayton that has to happen in Kosovo. And that is that leaders made the decision that they were going to compromise for peace. And that's why Dayton's relevant. But Dayton is not necessarily the standard or the prototype or the model for what needs to take place in Kosovo. That process, or whatever process emerges in the final status talks, will have to be unique to Kosovo and to the situation here, to 2005 not 1995. And it will be up to the United Nations and to the Europeans and to the United States and to the Kosovar leadership to define a process that could be effective. And that could be any kind of process. One can think of ten or fifteen different types of negotiations, and it's not up to us to say on June 8th 2005 what that will be. I think you have to take this step by step first. Yes?
QUESTION: When you're talking about compromise, is there an idea in your head that compromise should be "less than independence and more than autonomy". What compromise should Kosovar Albanian leadership do, and what compromise should come from Belgrade?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know, I haven't used those two words in the entire time I've been up at this podium very decidedly -- because it is not up to the United States or the European Union to decide this, it is up to the leaders. You know if you look at what we've been saying in the United States of America and what we have said to our Congress and what we've said publicly: there have to be certain elementary benchmarks that must be met to have a successful outcome here. No return to the status quo of six years ago is certainly an important benchmark. Mutual tolerance is an important benchmark. Decentralization is an important benchmark. Respect for the rights of minorities, and creating conditions in which minority populations such as the Serb population might return here in greater numbers because all of us have been disappointed to see the slow rate of returns here since 1999.
There are many others that one can list, that make up the fabric of the future negotiations. But again, the United States will offer its ideas, but we need to see ideas from the leadership of all the communities here. They need to take possession of their future, and they need to design the best possible process to create that future. Yes?
QUESTION: In this context, how do you see the role of Belgrade in negotiations?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there's no question that the authorities in Belgrade will need to be involved in this process. They are an actor here, they have influence here, they have a history here and therefore they will need to be involved. They will have to determine how they are involved in the process along with the United Nations. I cannot be prescriptive, but I think it's fair to say that one of the messages we will bring to Belgrade this evening and tomorrow is that there needs to be a sense of compromise from Belgrade as well. There needs to be a recognition that it's not possible to retrieve the past; it is not possible to recreate the past that's vanished from the 1990s. And that they need to encourage the Kosovar Serb community to participate fully in the life of this of the Assembly here, and the politics here.
I had a long conversation with the Kosovar Serb leadership here today, both the civil leadership and religious leadership and I know that they did not -- well, you know of course the turnout in the elections was very, very poor, and there's practically no representation right now in the normal political life of the country, in the assembly. It's really in the interest of Belgrade and of the Serbs to have full involvement, because that train will start to move and they need to be on that train.
QUESTION: You have stated that the view of the U.S. Administration is that there has been sufficient progress for starting the status talks. Do you consider that this progress is sufficient also for guaranteeing independence to Kosovo, as long as the majority asks for it?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, we think there's been a lot of progress made -- much progress made over the last six years, particularly recently. We've been impressed by that progress. We've felt, I think, both Phil and I, in our meeting with the leadership this morning, that they're committed to progress, they're committed to moving forward. That was good to hear but it's going to be up to Ambassador Eide and the United Nations to answer your question. And we hope the answer is going to be positive because we do want to see things move forward.
QUESTION: Can we expect after today's visit in Pristina and then Belgrade, a quick beginning of talks between Pristina and Belgrade on the level of PMs and Presidents?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: You know I can't answer that question. That will be up to those two leaders and up to their associates to determine that. But we would hope so. We would hope that there would be a normalization of politics in this part of the world. There have been too many years that have gone by where leaders have not talked to each other, and leaders have not moved very much in their positions and sometimes haven't reached out to each other. Frankly I think, if you look at the example of the religious leadership, they have been very courageous in some of their recent public statements, and they have shown the way forward for some of the civil leaders. And we hope that will remain the case. But for final peace to arrive, leaders have to have courage, and they have to take chances, and they have to look forward not backwards. We hope that that will be the environment here. Yes?
QUESTION: Do you believe that there are conditions in place for the return of displaced persons, keeping in mind that no credible return has taken place in six years time?
UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think that is a very good question, and a very difficult question to answer by an outsider. I will say this: we believe Serbs have the right to live in Kosovo. Therefore we hope the conditions will be created to allow Serbs to return. And we admire those people who have returned, and we admire the Kosovo Albanian population that has treated them well. We would urge everyone to create the conditions under which these returns can be made, because that's fundamentally part of this process.
Just to raise a point that we talked about in Sarajevo yesterday and we'll certainly mention it in Belgrade. The matter is that the most important peace of advice that the United States can offer to the people of all the countries of the Balkans is that this is a very hopeful time; they should see this as a hopeful time. We believe that the future of Serbia and Montenegro is with NATO and the European Union, and the future of Kosovo is the same, and the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina is the same. Kosovo this region needs to be fully part of Europe. If we look around at the neighbors at the Macedonians, and the Albanians, and the Croatians, and look at the Romanians and Bulgarians, and Hungarians and Czechs they all have peace, they all have prosperity, they all have democracy, they all have a free press, and they have free political systems, and they have a lot of religious and civil tolerance. That can happen in the Balkans too, and it should happen in the Balkans, but only if there is courage among the political leaders to make it happen.
So, hard choices need to be made on Kosovo in 2005. And hard choices need to be made to bring Karadic and Mladic to the Hague and put them on trial for war crimes. And if those things happen? I think you will see a very swift response by the United States to welcome Belgrade into Partnership for Peace if Karadic and Mladic are brought to the Hague, and to welcome Bosnia and Herzegovina into NATO's Partnership for Peace. And we hope that the EU will stay outward looking despite the recent setbacks in the constitutional process, and the EU will welcome all of these countries into a future relationship with European Union. That is the most objective, and we hope that that would be realized for all the peoples of this region. American diplomacy is focused on that that objective. It's a hopeful one and we believe it's realizable. Thank you very much for listening to me, it's a pleasure to be here.
Released on June 10, 2005
(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)