RFE/RL: The Contact Group issued a statement last night [31 January] calling for all possible efforts to be made to reach a settlement in the course of 2006. Do you think this is possible and what would be the risks that can jeopardize this phase?
Philip Goldberg: Clearly the United States has said that we are interested in the process moving as fast as possible, trying to reach a conclusion in the final-status discussions. That will require hard work by all sides, especially here in Prishtina. The death of [Kosovo] President [Ibrahim] Rugova of course has understandably caused a short period, we believe, in respect of his memory, from working in the negotiating team. But that will start again and it will require hard work, hard decisions, and compromise by Prishtina, Belgrade, and the active involvement of the international community. So I do believe that in 2006, as the Contact Group said, that this is possible.
RFE/RL: The statement issued by the Contact Group has been evaluated as of very high importance for Kosova. How would you comment the context of the statement?
Goldberg: I believe that any statement by the Contact Group by definition, especially at the ministerial level, is of great importance. And yet I think it again restates that we are very active in trying to reach a resolution of the final-status decision; it expresses great support for former [Finnish] President [Martti] Ahtisaari, as the [special] UN envoy [on the status talks] and his efforts. I know that Ambassador [Frank] Wisner, the US envoy who was in London, will be arriving in Prishtina later this afternoon and will make his initial consultations with the negotiating team and the political players here, both from the Albanian side and the Serb side and the non-Serb minorities. So I think the process is well under way, and the Contact Group statement supported that process. I think that is good.
RFE/RL: The official talks on status are due to begin at the end of February, with a meeting on decentralization. International negotiators have said they are ready, but according to you, how ready are Prishtina and Belgrade?
Goldberg: I can't speak about Belgrade. I'll allow my colleague [U.S.] Ambassador [to Serbia and Montenegro Michael] Polt to do that, if you are interested in the American perspective on it. What I can tell you about the Prishtina side is that there was a lot of good work that went on in the political and strategic group. A paper was developed that appears to be a very good one and a good starting point from this side. And I believe that the team will be ready to discuss those issues in late February, after the selection of a new president, after the meeting of the negotiating team that is necessary to help put them on that course to Vienna. As I mentioned, this is a mourning period now for President Rugova and that has delayed the process a couple of weeks.
RFE/RL: Do you think that the death of President Rugova can impact the political scene and the negotiating process itself as a whole?
Goldgberg: I believe that President Rugova would want this process to go forward, and his life's project was to reach a decision on Kosovo's status. We all know what he believed that status should be. But that will require hard work and compromise and will require people here to respect each other in reaching decisions. I do believe that this can be done and has to be done now, keeping in mind President Rugova's legacy, but obviously without President Rugova.
RFE/RL: After the late president passed away, many have said that Kosovo may face political crises. What do you think, is there really such an anxiety in this regard?
Goldberg: I don't believe that's the case. I think, actually what we saw over the last week, 10 days, is enormous respect, an enormous outpouring of grief over the president's loss. But I think that the political world has remained stable and now the president's political party is in the process of choosing someone for the post of president to offer at the Kosovo Assembly. So that is the normal course of events. Of course this is not an easy situation either for the LDK the Democratic League of Kosovo], the president's political party, or for Kosovo as a whole. They have only known one president. So it will be a difficult period. But I think it is an important period for Kosovo to show its maturity both politically and as a society that this is a collective effort and an issue in terms of a status decision that will effect everybody, not just one person.
RFE/RL: You have raised the issue of a consensual president. Fatmir Sejdiu from the LDK is most likely to be nominated as a candidate for Kosova's president. Does he fit the description you were referring to when you mentioned the consensual president?
Goldberg: What I meant when I used the term "consensual president" was somebody who would gain wide respect, not just within the LDK, but also in the Kosovar society, among the opposition parties. Somebody who would be able to unite people at this time. And I think that the reaction to Mr. Sejdiu, at least what I have seen in the press and among the political figures here, indicates that that is the case with him. So I believe that yes, he is among those who would fit the description of the consensual president.
RFE/RL: Mr. Goldberg, the talks on status are expected to be more concentrated on minorities issues, especially on the Serb minority. How much have the Kosovars done and what do they need to do further in this regard?
Goldberg: The decentralization paper that I mentioned is one of the key issues that relates to the minorities and their ability to live safely, securely and with confidence in Kosovo. That is an important step. The key issue really is what does the majority, really the vast majority, probably 90 percent of the population, feel about having the minority living with them and enjoying not just full rights, but also the ability to maintain their culture, their language, their educational facilities, and the rest. These are important issues that they need to think about a lot. I think you can also see that what Kosovo and the negotiating team will have to deal with in considering all these issues, is that the international community, which has actually been in charge through the UN over the last 6 1/2 years until the final-status decision, is going to make sure that these are issues that are front in center. So it is both a part of getting the situation internally correct, because it says a lot about Kosovo's democracy that minorities will have that ability to live comfortably and securely, but also in a way Kosovo's policy toward the world, what kind of place is going to be.
RFE/RL: Many experts say the development of the economy is a precondition for a stable situation. Many are expecting that after the status definition, the issue of economy is going to be resolved. Is it realistic to expect that, and is it realistic to expect that international aid is going to be more approachable after the status is defined?
Goldberg: It is not a question of aid; it is a question of development. The question is if the World Bank and the IMF [International Monetary Fund] are able to come in and help with international funding for productive projects, such as a new electric plant for example, which as we have seen the last couple of weeks is badly needed here. If companies see certainty in the final-status outcome and decide that there is something to invest in here, whether it will be the mines or the agriculture areas that have been identified as places in the economy that can be developed, then that's what is in Kosovo's future. Aid has never developed a place alone. It can help and may be is needed here. But this isn't a question of aid. It is a question of what can Kosovo do to develop economically.
Spotlight On Kosovo
THE WORLD'S NEWEST NATION? The region of Kosovo has a population of more than 2 million, some 90 percent of whom are ethnic Albanians. It was one of the poorest regions in the former Yugoslavia, but has considerable mineral wealth and an enterprising population, many of whom work abroad but keep close contact with Kosovo. All ethnic Albanian political parties seek independence on the principles of self-determination and majority rule. They feel that Serbia lost its historically based claim to what was its autonomous province under the 1974 constitution by revoking that autonomy in the late 1980s and then conducting a crackdown in 1999 that forced some 850,000 people to flee their homes.
Since NATO's intervention that year to stop the expulsions, Kosovo has been under a UN administration (UNMIK). The UN has begun to gradually transfer functions to elected Kosovar institutions. The primary Serbian concerns are physical safety for the local Serbian minority, a secure return for the tens of thousands of Serbian displaced persons, and protection for historic Serbian religious buildings. The main problems affecting all Kosovars, however, are economic. Until Kosovo's final status is clarified and new legislation passed and enforced, it will not be able to attract the investment it needs to provide jobs for its population, which is one of the youngest and fastest growing in Europe. Prosperity is widely seen as the key to political stability and interethnic coexistence in Kosovo, as is the case in much of Southeastern Europe.
For an archive of RFE/RL's coverage of developments in the disputed region of KOSOVO, click here.