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

Philip Goldberg RFE/RL's Kosovo subunit recently spoke to Philip Goldberg, the chief of mission at the U.S. Office Pristina, about the issue of Kosovo's status. The province's majority ethnic Albanians want independence from Serbia, while Belgrade supports a position of "more than autonomy, but less than independence." According to a recent Reuters report, Kai Eide, who is UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's special envoy for Kosovo, said that his planned report on the province's readiness for final status talks will be delayed by "several more weeks" in order to put pressure on Prishtina and Belgrade to better implement the international community's standards for Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Mr. Goldberg, Kosova seems to be just ahead of the international process of status definition. Exactly when do you think this process will begin?

Philip Goldberg: I can't say with absolute certainty, but I would expect that Ambassador Eide is in the process of wrapping up his report. That, if it is positive, will be the trigger from moving on to the final status process, first naming an envoy, a special envoy of the secretary-general of the UN. The United States has said that it is very much interested in providing a deputy for that team. So I hope that this process will begin during the fall.

RFE/RL: How do you see this process, this way of defining the status? Through a conference similar to Dayton or Rambouillet? Through "shuttle diplomacy," or through some other ways?

Goldberg: A lot of this will have to do with decisions taken by the envoy; what is his and his team's view of how best to structure these talks. And I think it is impossible at the moment to say exactly what structure it will take. What I know is, that at the beginning it will involve some sort of discussion with the parties involved to help set that framework.

RFE/RL: In your latest [public] appearances you have raised the need for political leaders to prepare for status talks. Until now, how much have they done this?

Goldberg: I would say very little. There have been a lot of discussions and some skirmishing in the forum, about how to organize. But it has really been just that, just talk. It hasn't really been a serious preparation for final status. You are quite right, that I have been quite strongly advising that people prepare for this moment. It is going to be one of the most important moments in Kosovo's history and the people here need to be well represented. You know there are people who are saying this isn't going to be a negotiation. Well, it is. Even if you take as your premise a certain position in the final status, which we all know on this side [Kosovo] means independence, on the other side [Belgrade] means something else. There are still a whole lot of issues that flow from that issue. For example, what are the rights and obligations of certain communities here; decentralization and how that will have an effect on the future of Kosovo; the north of Kosovo and what will happen there, because we all know that there has been a different reality there than in the rest of Kosovo in the last six years; issues having to do with debts and privatization, all of the technical issues that are involved. These are hugely complicated issues, including that of the role of the international community here, after final status is determined. It will be a lot better if the people on this side showed the maturity and the political will to make those decisions themselves and try to engage the international community and Belgrade when necessary, on issues of vital importance for the people here.

RFE/RL: One of the main issues that will follow the process of status definition is the issue of interethnic relations and minorities. On one side, [ethnic] Albanian leaders claim that the Serbian community is not ready to integrate and is not accepting the new reality in Kosova. On the other side, the Serbian representatives say Kosova's institutions are not offering enough to be integrated. What would your comment be?
"Compromise is important and will be necessary on both sides, on all sides I should say. Compromise basically means that you are not going to get everything that you want."

Goldberg: My comment would be that both sides need to do more to try to create a future that will allow minorities to have a safe and secure life in Kosovo. The majority needs to accept that there are minorities here, who have every right to live in safety, security, with their own language, with their own culture. That, in many ways, is part of the decentralization effort to assure that by putting a policy behind the rhetoric. I think that the institutions need to be more welcoming of minorities and more willing to offer opportunities to people. I think safety and security is not yet what we would like. Part of it is a problem of perception, in Serbian areas especially, that they are not welcome.... Part of it is psychological, but still more needs to be done by the majority to reach out to the Serbian community.

For example, when [Kosovo's] Prime Minister [Bajram Kosumi] a few months ago started to go to some Serbian areas and speak to communities and assure them that their future was secure and that the majority, the [ethnic] Albanian population, really wanted to make a gesture and actually live in harmony, that was a very good step. We would like to see a lot more of that. I haven't seen much of it in the most recent weeks, so I would like to see much more of it. On the Serbian side, there has been a feeling that somehow everything will be presented to them, a state of perfection, and then maybe they will consider being involved in the institutions. Well that's not right either. We have argued and we will continue to argue that the path to reconciliation, the path to living together, means working together. And it doesn't mean boycotting the institutions, it doesn't mean "you give us freedom of movement, you give us all of the things we are demanding and then maybe we will come into [these] institutions." You have to work together, you have to work for those things. So I think both sides need to do more.

RFE/RL: Lately, the issue of compromise has been raised by different circles, but the Kosovar Albanian leaders claim that independence is a compromise. Belgrade, though, insists on the formula "more than autonomy, less than independence." What do you think about it?

Goldberg: Compromise is important and will be necessary on both sides, on all sides I should say. Compromise basically means that you are not going to get everything that you want. I think that is readily apparent here on this side, and I think it will be apparent in Belgrade as well. We are going to face many difficult issues. Not the least being the one that you mentioned about the divergence in views in Belgrade and Prishtina about the final status issue.

RFE/RL: You mentioned earlier the role of the international community after status is defined. How do you see that role?

Goldberg: I see it as having to be determined quite frankly, but what I do know and what we all agree on, is that the path for the Balkans generally and Kosovo specifically, is towards Europe. And we would like to see and I think the Europeans would like to see a very heavily weighted international presence towards Europe, meaning the European Union. The United States of course will be involved, and what the actual arrangements are remain to be determined. It also has to be done in a way that has locals buy in...but also that protects the rights of minorities and the whole construct that comes from the final status process. So it is going to be complicated as I say and it is not something you can say in a vacuum. But I think what we do know is, in areas like judiciary and in areas that require a continued international presence, after the final status decision, that we will do it in a way that is not top-down necessarily, [as] the international community, as has been the case in the last six years, is running Kosovo, but rather more of a partnership, one that leads Kosovo towards those European institutions and integration with the rest of the region.

RFE/RL: Let's change the topic of our conversation a little and talk about the everyday problems Kosova's citizens face, such as the poor economy. What do you think needs to be done for the economy to be developed to a satisfying level for everybody?

Goldberg: There are few areas, few sectors, where the economy could very quickly improve. Everybody knows, for example, that a new electrical facility is going to be needed here. That is going to require international lending, international help that process become a reality. And that probably can't be achieved until the final status issue is resolved and there is more definition about Kosovo's future. But almost immediately jobs can be created from that, but more importantly electricity, if generated in a few years from a new plant, will also result in increasing revenues for the treasury of Kosovo....

[Also] property claims have to be resolved in a way and quickly, so that the agricultural output here is increased, so you're not importing only so many of your foodstuffs from outside of Kosovo. There is no reason for it when there is good land here. Those are two areas where things can start fairly quickly. From the privatization of the mines, jobs can be created. We know that, for example, in the privatization of Ferronikel [mining-metallurgical giant], 1700 jobs can be created fairly quickly in a period of about three years. And yet there is nothing but political objections raised to do that and all kinds of obstacles that Kosovars put in the way of this, not the internationals. So Kosovars need to get out of the way and see that there are good things out there too and not just to object to everything on political grounds, because if that is the case, people will be disappointed. And I think finally people should realize that the status issue is not some sort of miracle for the economy. It is going to take hard work. For example, a university that functions well and produces graduates who are capable and come into the workforce well trained, it means competing against other places and producing things here, that can be done more efficiently and more cost effectively than in other places. The international economy is as it is. Kosovo is going to have to adjust to it, it isn't going to adjust to Kosovo.

RFE/RL: The poor [state of the] economy is usually cited by experts as one of the reasons behind corruption and organized crime. Does Kosova have that problem?

Goldberg: We all are concerned about the problems of corruption and crime here.... Kosovo's, and quite frankly the region's, most recent history -- in Serbia there were sanctions, here there was war and other dislocations -- has caused all kinds of criminal enterprises to take advantage of the poor economic situation. So yes, we are concerned about that and people need to be aware of it. And as time goes by and as the economy develops, we hope and we expect, and as laws are observed more, that those enterprises will be pushed aside.

(Interview by Arbana Vidishiqi)

See also:

Analysis: Kosovo's Leadership Crisis?

Analysis: More Talks, More Models For Disputed Province

More news and analysis on Kosovo

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