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Kosovo: RFE/RL Interviews U.S. Official On Status Talks

  • Robert McMahon --> On 30 September, RFE/RL's Washington correspondent discussed progress in Kosovo with Rosemary DiCarlo, U.S. deputy assistant secretary for Europe and Eurasian affairs.

RFE/RL: At this point, is it a safe bet to assume that the final-status talks will begin by December?

DiCarlo: Basically what I can say is we are awaiting now the results of a comprehensive report carried out by Ambassador Kai Eide, who is Norway's permanent representative to NATO. He was appointed by Secretary-General [Kofi] Annan to do so. We are awaiting Eide's report and then the final recommendation of the secretary-general. If that report deems, and if the secretary-general accepts the recommendation, that enough progress has been made on implementation of standards, then we would assume that future-status talks would be launched and, conceivably, since the report is due shortly, conceivably they could be launched by the end of the year but we need to see the results of that report.

RFE/RL: It is the secretary-general's recommendation, but it is also, obviously, the Contact Group and the Security Council members, some of whom are in the Contact Group. How much are they weighing in right now with their views, or are they all sort of waiting for this as well?

DiCarlo: The Contact Group meets frequently, and we are a member, so we meet and discuss things frequently. And we have been following the issues considerably according to UN Security Council Resolution No. 1244, it's the secretary-general who makes the recommendation and determination. I think that we all agree that progress has been made on the ground in Kosovo. It's a question of whether the progress is sufficient at this point or not. But we've seen a number of things happen over the last couple of years -- the implementation of laws, attempts at greater decentralization, things that basically would enable Kosovo to be a multiethnic society and function quite properly respecting the rights of minorities. So some progress has been made, and we know that additional progress needs to be made as well.

RFE/RL: On that note, it was about a year ago -- a little longer -- that Mr. Eide released his initial report, summing things up, which served basically as a catalyst for, I think, hastening the timetable. What can you say about the impact that report and the ensuing process has had on the standards process?

DiCarlo: It's had a very positive impact. I think it's clear that standards need to be met for Kosovo really to move forward in any capacity. There are a number of things that had to be done, and Eide pointed to them and was very clearly focused on some of the things that needed to be focused on.

We have, as I said, seen some progress. I think that there is a sense in the international community that we cannot leave the undefined status of Kosovo -- we can't maintain the status quo -- that there is a need to determine what the future status would be, provided indeed that some progress has been made.

RFE/RL: You have these sort of locked positions on both sides -- they are barely talking to each other -- and yet by year's end they may be in a situation where they have to be engaged in pretty intense talks. It really seems to be an almost irreconcilable thing and yet you have major players involved, so that leaves some hope.

DiCarlo: There is a lot of hope, and I think there is some dialogue going on now, which is good, and we would encourage continued dialogue no matter when talks are launched. So you have, as you pointed out, major players, you have the UN involved, you have four of the five [permanent] members of Security Council involved in the Contact Group, the European Union -- so you have a number of major players that are willing to facilitate this dialogue.

RFE/RL: Also, there are other factors that might have an impact. The illness of [Kosovar] President [Ibrahim] Rugova -- does that concern you in terms of his ability to be part of this? Obviously, he's a key player with charisma and local sway, and so forth.

DiCarlo: Well, he certainly is a key player. He has the moral authority. We understand he is playing a role now. He has just named a team of unity and it includes the current government, a few key government officials with opposition leaders to be the negotiation team if indeed talks are launched this year.

RFE/RL: It's a four-member team?

DiCarlo: It's four members. The prime minister, the president.... Actually, I think it is more than four. Five or six. Prime minister, president, head of the parliament, and then leaders of the two major opposition parties. That's my understanding.

RFE/RL: So you're encouraged that he can still play a role, that he's not too incapacitated at this point?

DiCarlo: We are encouraged he can play a role, yes.

RFE/RL: In terms of the region, you have a new government in Albania that obviously can be very influential in this process. What kind of contacts has the U.S. administration had with Albania, as well as with the Albanians in Kosovo?

DiCarlo: We have a very active embassy on the ground in Tirana, and we met with the new government leaders in New York when they were here for the UN General Assembly. So we have had meetings with Prime Minister [Sali] Berisha, President [Alfred] Moisiu and Foreign Minister Besnik Mustafaj and have received their assurances that they will play a constructive role over the coming months if indeed talks are launched.

RFE/RL: Now they are talking about something like "conditional independence" or something along those lines. This is coming out in some other comments you see from people involved in the process. I realize you don't want to prejudge anything, but is it safe to say that some kind of international supervision will be part of the process going forward as these talk take place and as people are looking toward an end game?

DiCarlo: Our position is we go into these talks, we, the United States and the Contact Group, do not have a predetermined outcome for these talks. They have to be negotiated. There are a few issues that we would rule out. We certainly don't want to see any decision made on future status that is done by unilateral action or use of force. We do not want to see a partition of Kosovo. We don't want to see borders redrawn in the region. This is something that we have laid down as sort of conditions. Other than that we think that there should be a negotiated outcome, and we don't want to prejudge what the outcome is.

Certainly the way we understand the process will unfold is that if the recommendation is to launch talks, we would expect that they would be launched by the end of this year. I mean if the recommendation comes out in the next few weeks, we would expect it would be done by the end of this year. The secretary-general will appoint a special envoy to do it. He will carry UN hat. There would be a team, the envoy and his team would be working with both Belgrade and Pristina on discussions on the future status, which would cover a range of issues, because there are many issues to be taken into consideration as well -- protection of minorities, cultural sites, I mean there is a range of issues that would have to be discussed.

RFE/RL: With all appearances that this process is moving to a new phase, what is the concern, how much concern is there among actors like the United States and your colleagues about an outbreak of violence in the region that could also influence matters as well? Is there concern, are you getting sort of vibes from the area that this is something that needs to be really watched closely?

DiCarlo: Obviously when one enters a phase of this kind, one wants to pay attention to all aspects. We certainly hope for constructive engagement from all sides and would hope that things could proceed very peacefully. We don't have indications now that there would be acts of violence or anything. To the contrary. But it is an issue one pays attention to, certainly.

RFE/RL: And on the Security Council -- you mentioned that four out of the five permanent members are part of the Contact Group in the process. The initial Kosovo war was conducted without a Security Council mandate because of Russian objections and they continue to make their positions clear through this process and are seen as a kind of broker on behalf of the Serbs. Is there sufficient unity on the Security Council to sort of bring this process through the difficult next phase?

DiCarlo: I think there is. I think that the Russians have played a very constructive role over the last couple of years and I think there would be sufficient unity, yes.

RFE/RL: So it is not one of these things were there is a sort of red line that they've brought up and you are seeing on the horizon and that would be difficult.... You mentioned that for the United States, partitioning is not an option....

DiCarlo: Well this is from the Contact Group. This is not the U.S. This is something the Contact Group has agreed to. So, we all have agreed to certain principles -- and partition is one, no use of force is another, no unilateral action is yet a third. So, I think that Russia has been an active member of the Contact Group. I think that we will see again cooperation and the kind of constructive engagement that we've had in the last couple of years.

RFE/RL: How important is the situation of spurring economic improvements in Kosovo? The World Bank came out with a report showing high levels of poverty there. Obviously it is an issue that everybody is aware of. What can be done to help that process while this difficult political process is going on a parallel track?

DiCarlo: Certainly the UN administration that's based in Pristina has been trying very hard to implement, along with the Kosovars, a number of economic reforms that would help them move the economy. And one of the reasons I think that future status is so key is that until the status is determined it's extremely hard for them to move forward in a number of areas. Certainly investment and other things are stalled until it's clear what the status of Kosovo will be.

They have made quite a bit of progress on privatization, that is one area where they have made progress. More progress does need to be made, but there has been progress in that area.

RFE/RL: I suppose trading partners would want to know what sort of entity they are doing business with?

DiCarlo: Exactly. And what the legal framework is, what the regulatory framework is, etc.

RFE/RL: And related to that is this illicit economy in the province that has raised concern as well. Is there a firm enough law-enforcement apparatus there to be able to move against that or is that something where the international community is going to have to be involved for the foreseeable future?

DiCarlo: I think they have made a lot of progress on local police. It's another area where considerable progress in some cases has been made. It's actually a multiethnic police force at this point, but they will certainly need support from the international community in continuing to develop, there's no question.

RFE/RL: In the greater scheme of things in terms of international media attention and other things, Kosovo is a side issue compared to Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and so forth. Where does it figure in U.S. concerns at this point and how would you categorize the way the U.S. is engaged in Kosovo at this point?

DiCarlo: Both the president and the secretary of state have placed a high priority on the United States being involved in leading international efforts to stabilize the Balkans in general. They both realize there's more to be done and that we have to be part of this to help it become stable.

We see the region as entering a new stage right now. We think this is a really important year, this year and next year, really a year for a lot of decisions, but we're entering a new stage and that stage, we would hope, would accelerate the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions. So we do see U.S. involvement as an important issue here.

RFE/RL: Is it possible to compare U.S. engagement with say, Bosnia, where we are going to have 10 years of Dayton [peace agreement] coming up?

DiCarlo: I think both in Kosovo and Bosnia we have tremendous credibility. I think that's it's important. The Europeans want us involved. There's no question that they want us as partners in this. We indeed are very good partners in the Balkans. We work very cooperatively with the Contact Group and the European Union. In Bosnia we are still engaged, we are part of the peace implementation council working again with European colleagues hoping that we can see all of the Dayton agreements implemented and actually moving beyond Dayton.

I think both in Kosovo and Bosnia we have tremendous credibility. I think that's it's important. The Europeans want us involved. There's no question that they want us as partners in this. We indeed are very good partners in the Balkans. We work very cooperatively with the Contact Group and the European Union. In Bosnia we are still engaged. We are part of the peace-implementation council working again with European colleagues, hoping that we can see all of the Dayton agreements implemented and actually move beyond Dayton. The key is to move beyond Dayton to the path to Euro-Atlantic integration.

And the Bosnians have moved in some areas. They have made some major steps in the last few weeks in the area of defense reform. We are anticipating that they will approve it in their parliament in the next few weeks, which is a key move forward. They will have one military, which is obviously critical for membership in NATO. We hope they will continue to make other reforms that will be needed for them to launch a stabilization-association agreement with the European Union in the near future.

RFE/RL: And Kosovo is seen as this pivotal place where, if the international community gets it right, you have, maybe, Montenegro being helped, maybe the final stages for Bosnia, maybe everything starts to come together. If Kosovo doesn't, then it's this aggravating sore that seems to be upsetting other areas.

DiCarlo: I think it's true that Kosovo is key here. I think it's the most difficult remaining issue, and it's an issue that needs to be resolved and then I think we can see the region sort of turning a page and moving forward.

I need to mention one thing, though, and this is something that is really key for us and we know it is key for the Europeans as well. Unless we have full compliance with the international court in The Hague on war criminals, really Bosnia, Serbia and Montenegro, and Croatia are not going to be able to move forward in their path to Euro-Atlantic institutions. We have, I guess we should say, 7 1/2 war criminals left. There are seven criminals we do not have turned over to The Hague, an eighth one is under arrest now and will be turned over shortly -- the one arrested in Russia a few weeks ago. This is a very, very important issue. So, no matter what sort of progress they make in other areas, no matter what progress we make on whether it be police reform or Kosovo's future status or other issues like economic reform, the war-criminals issue must be addressed.

RFE/RL: On that point, I've seen some reports lately or some people surmising that there has been some sort of deal making or soft pedaling of the war crimes issue if the Serbs play along with other key areas... But you are saying that's not a bargaining chip.

DiCarlo: That is not part of the bargaining. We have held very firmly that we need to see in particular [former Bosnian Serb Army General Ratko] Mladic in The Hague in order for the Serbs to become members of [NATO's] Partnership for Peace, for example. And I think that we know the European Union has placed certain restrictions in this area as well as far as full EU membership.

RFE/RL: Were you involved in the talks in New York?

DiCarlo: Yes, I was.

RFE/RL: Shortly after that it emerged that Eide wanted to wait a little while to provide an opportunity for the sides to show their sincerity for the standards process, especially, I think, the Albanians. That's what came out of the Contact Group statement, at least. Is that a fair characterization?

DiCarlo: I think that our statement was really more one to say that we're anticipating launching, if indeed we get the positive recommendation, we have every intent to move full speed ahead. We want to see a continued implementation of standards, of reforms. This is something that should continue throughout the process, if it's launched. And obviously we do encourage both sides to continue their dialogue. This is a good sign.

See also:

U.S. Kosovo Mission Head Talks To RFE/RL About Province Status Issue

News And Features On Kosovo