Michael Steiner, the outgoing chief of the UN-led administration in Kosovo, has asked for the support of the Albanian authorities in Tirana in convincing Kosovar Albanian leaders to adopt a more cooperative stance with the international community. During a short visit to Albania yesterday, Steiner warned that Kosovo's elected authorities cannot afford to lose the opportunity to participate in this month's Thessaloniki summit.
Tirana, 4 June 2003 (RFE/RL) -- During a brief trip to the Albanian capital yesterday, Michael Steiner, the outgoing head of the UN civilian administration in Kosovo (UNMIK), was clear in requesting Tirana's support in convincing the Kosovo leadership to foster a greater sense of partnership in its relations with the international community.
At the same time, he emphasized the positive, saying he was "very happy" that authorities from Kosovo's transitional government would have the opportunity to meet the 15 European Union heads of state at the 20-21 June summit in Thessaloniki, Greece:
"I'm firmly of the conviction that the nearer we come to Thessaloniki, the more the people will realize it is in their interest, and we need to create a positive dynamic in this direction," Steiner said. "I'm absolutely convinced that the government of Albania and the foreign minister of Albania personally will help us to create this dynamic everywhere and in all the capitals which are concerned here."
Steiner called the Thessaloniki summit a unique opportunity for governments to show "maturity" and represent the real interests of their citizens. "Nobody can lose by talking," Steiner said. "Everybody can win."
Albanian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Ilir Meta welcomed Kosovo's growing importance on the European agenda. He praised the recent implementation of an EU "tracking mechanism" to monitor Kosovo's integration progress, saying this would facilitate discussions on the future of the UN-administered province.
Meta expressed confidence that Kosovo authorities -- who have shown little tendency to compromise on their demand for independence -- would not stand in the way of the region's goal of EU membership.
"Today, when it is obvious that all our countries aspire to EU integration -- and the EU is underlining the need for a regional approach and cooperation between neighboring countries, and we are all aware that this is the primary condition for further European integration -- any escape from dialogue, any refusal to engage in dialogue, would mean a step backward," Meta said.
Meta said the Thessaloniki summit will give Kosovo leaders an opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to cooperate with their neighbor countries and present their vision for European integration.
Steiner rejected the suggestion that the presence of Kosovo officials in Thessaloniki means a change in the province's status is imminent. "The fact that I bring in the UNMIK delegation members of the provisional institutions is a recognition of a political need that those who have been elected participate in a legally correct forum in events which are important for Kosovo. But it does not in any way change the status of Kosovo," he said.
Steiner -- who recently announced he will soon leave UNMIK after less than two years in the post -- said key status issues like high unemployment, ethnic issues, and the return to Kosovo of people deported during the province's 1999-2000 crisis are still far from being resolved.
"I think even more important than what the outcome will be is how we get there. And the more we can say that there are functioning institutions behaving in a mature way, taking up their responsibility, the easier it will be to solve this question. I have always said it will come, it will be solved -- but we are not there yet," Steiner said.
Kosovo's status was also discussed during a regional meeting this week in Ohrid, Macedonia, where Albanian President Alfred Moisiu said the issue should be resolved by popular referendum. In remarks yesterday, Meta said, "the defining of Kosovo's status should produce stability for the region and integration for Kosovars."
The Albanian press has suggested that officials in Tirana stand to gain economically from the paternalistic relationship with Kosovo that Steiner is urging. Tirana and Pristina are already planning a significant expansion in business ties, with a free trade agreement under negotiation and donors being sought to fund a project to harmonize their electrical systems.