Washington, 8 November 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Nicholas Burns told the committee that Kosovo can aspire to independence only if the majority ethnic Albanians in the province show they can govern fairly and efficiently.
"For the Kosovo Albanians, they have to prove to us -- the international community -- that they can govern democratically, that they can govern effectively, and that they can design a future Kosovo that will protect the rights of the minority population," he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Ensuring such an attitude toward governance is another matter, however. One senator, George Voinovich (Republican-Ohio), said his experience in the region is that offering inducements of membership in the European Union and NATO can be effective.
"It's extremely important that we hold out the prospect of EU and NATO membership to Macedonia, Albania, Croatia, [and] Serbia and Montenegro. I have long believed that membership in the EU and NATO is the common denominator that can hold the region together despite their borders and their history. And I think bringing Slovakia and Bulgaria into NATO had really helped to stabilize that area," Voinovich said.
Burns agreed, but said any of the former Yugoslav states must understand that EU and NATO membership will require more than governmental reforms. He said they can't hope for such integration unless they give up prominent indictees who face trials on war crimes charges at the International Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia in The Hague.
Specifically, Burns cited Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic, both Bosnian Serbs, and Ante Gotovina, a Croat, for war crimes trials. "The three of them [Karadzic, Mladic, and Gotovina] have to face trial in The Hague for war crimes," he said. "Until that happens, we can't complete this last piece of the puzzle, we can't help these countries become fully democratic or fully integrated into NATO or the European Union. And that is a challenge for those countries."
For his part, Holbrook agreed that Kosovar Albanians have to respect the rights of minority Serbs in the province if they want eventual independence. He said the Serbs there must have what he called "iron-clad" guarantees that they and their cultural heritage will be protected.
Otherwise, Holbrooke said, Kosovo will face a new round of discord, which he called "reverse ethnic cleansing," and perhaps even war.
Both Holbrooke and Burns agreed that NATO forces should continue to provide security in Kosovo for the foreseeable future. And both said they believed the United States should be part of that mission, despite some opposition from the Bush administration.
"I know that there are those in the U.S. government who have questioned this view, especially given the overwhelming troop requirements in Iraq and Afghanistan," Holbrooke said. "But precisely because we must show the world we do not abandon our commitments, we must finish the job. And if we don't, the subsequent costs will be even higher. War could resume, and what was done so far will have been wasted."
Holbrooke said Washington has been a consistent broker of peace since the administration of President George H.W. Bush. He said there is no reason for the United States to diminish its role now.