Prague, 8 April 1999 (RFE/RL) -- The following is the transcript of a question-and-answer session on the Kosovo crisis conducted late Tuesday by the South Slavic Service with the United States' special envoy for the former Yugoslavia, Robert Gelbard:
Q: Gelbard was asked about the effect of Kosovo on the rest of Europe.
A: Let me say first that the actions by (Yugoslav) President (Slobodan) Milosevic in these horrible actions of expelling and murdering hundreds of thousands of Kosovar Albanians is something that Europe and the world have not seen in decades. This is mass murder. This is not just ethnic cleansing, but it's a scorched-earth policy, to try to rid people of the ability to live in their native land.
The international community has responded very strongly and very firmly and will maintain its determination to reverse this in every way possible. There are some fundamental questions that have been raised about the ability of the international community to deal with President Milosevic, and that is something which is being, that has to be considered with great seriousness.
Meanwhile, of course, there has been the beginning of a response to ease the pressures on Macedonia and Albania, because of what is clearly Milosevics policy of trying to destabilize those countries, as well as pressure to increase the refugee flow to Montenegro. That's part of Milosevics attempt to destabilize the democratically elected, multiethnic government of (Montenegrin) President (Milo) Djukanovic.
The U.S., our European allies and others are showing the strongest possible support for President Djukanovic, as well as for the governments of Albania and for Macedonia. We continue to work with others to try to relieve the pressure on this. There is now going to be a NATO ministerial meeting, on Monday, to talk about all aspects of this problem and this conflict.
We continue to maintain, as an extremely high priority, the need for full implementation of the Dayton agreement. U.S. support, and our allies support, for Bosnia-Herzegovina is still one of our very highest foreign policy priorities, something that (U.S.) Secretary (of State Madeleine) Albright has maintained very firmly and very clearly. President Clinton maintains this very firmly and very clearly, so there should be no doubt in anybody's mind about that.
Q: Gelbard was asked about a lasting solution for the crisis and the possibility of further Kosovo peace talks.
A: Well, first, it's unclear whether there will be new peace negotiations or under what conditions. It's not acceptable for Milosevic to have accomplished this awful, terrible horror that they are in the process of doing, and then suddenly stop and say, "Now it's time for peace negotiations.
Even as they were going through a charade of pretending to negotiate at Rambouillet, they were readying this offensive, just as they had on previous occasions. There are serious questions as to whether Milosevic can be believed any more. (Milosevic negotiated ...) the recent agreement with ambassador (special U.S. Balkans envoy Richard) Holbrooke -- back on the 25th of October last year -- and broke it almost immediately. So there are some absolutely fundamental questions that need to be examined with the greatest seriousness, and are being examined right now.
In terms of issues relating to territorial integrity, our views certainly haven't changed. We support the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina as it stands now. There should be absolutely no consideration of anything like a partition, no redrawing of maps -- I certainly know that one of the favorite hobbies of people in the Balkans is drawing maps, new maps, but we totally oppose any kind of redefinition of territorial integrity for any country in the region."
Q: Gelbard was asked about ways of achieving lasting peace in the region.
A: Well, the structural needs continue to be the need for strong democratic institutions, strong free market economies. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, of course, we continue to support the idea of refugee returns, in ways which need to be accelerated dramatically, but those are really some of the fundamentals that are involved.
Q: Gelbard was asked about the possibility of political tensions spreading to Bosnia.
A: Well, I think Bosnia-Herzegovina has enough issues of its own that need to be focused upon for people to really work on those questions. In that regard, we are exceedingly disappointed in President (Zivko) Radisic (the Bosnian Serb member of Bosnia's three-man presidency) and other Serbs in the central institutions who have decided to boycott those institutions. I think there needs to be some serious attention paid, and we are beginning to consult with others on this issue, since it's now been a month since President Radisic began this boycott, as to whether he ought to stay as a member of the joint presidency.
I was appalled to discover that he had tried to send a letter to the Secretary-General of the United Nations in his capacity as chairman of the joint presidency. This is really extraordinarily cynical, at a time when he's boycotting these institutions, and incidentally, it also is a violation of the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina and the rules of the procedure of the presidency for one individual to do something like that.
"But if he and others in Republika Srpska care about their own people, what they ought to be focusing on is getting the joint institutions to function properly, and that means going back to work. It means supporting the government of (Bosnian Serb) Prime Minister (Milorad) Dodik and stopping the foolishness and the games that they have been playing as instruments of Milosevic.
Q: If the boycott continues, Gelbard was asked, how will it affect Bosnia.
A: Well, as I said, I think some serious consideration has to be given to an ultimatum to President Radisic about this. There are clearly circumstances, according to the rules of procedure, where only two members of the presidency can adopt decisions, and ultimately I think if Radisic and some of his colleagues aren't willing to participate, then life has to go on without them.
"I was also shocked by his ridiculous comments about SFORs action regarding the railroad (Radisic said NATO-led peacekeeping troops in Bosnia exceeded their mandate by destroying a vital Yugoslav rail link that runs through the country). That railroad was being used by the army of Yugoslavia, violating the territorial integrity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. President Radisic ought to be thinking about his own country, rather than protecting the interests of Milosevic.
Q: Gelbard was asked his prediction about whether this situation will create pressure to change the Dayton agreement.
A: The Dayton peace agreements will not be changed. We think that there was an extraordinary amount of work put into negotiating the Dayton agreement in the first place, they will not be changed. By the way, I should add, I'm also partly amused but also deeply shocked by President Radisic, and others in Republika Srpskas continued call for changing the decision by the arbitrator on Brcko. They were willing to play by the rules as long as they thought they were going to be able to keep Brcko. They accepted those rules, but once the arbitrator made his final decision, now they're looking to try to change it.
That's as if a football team was playing the game until the other team scored, or until the referee made a decision they didn't like, and then they decided to take the ball and go home.
They have to be very careful, because with their boycott, and with their continued efforts to try to undermine the arbitrator's decision, ultimately -- instead of an autonomous district -- Brcko still might go to the Federation. So, as is called for in the arbitrator's decision, failure to cooperate can mean that, could mean that Brcko could still go to the other entity. Dayton will not be revised.
Q: Gelbard comments on rumors that Milosevics possible surrender could mean a change in the Dayton accord.
A: I don't know how many times I have to say it. The Dayton agreement will remain as it is. There is no discussion of it being revised, and it will not be revised. I don't understand why anybody thinks there's even a possibility of that happening. There is no possibility of that happening. Zero. Not a chance.
Q: Gelbard is asked to comment on the attitudes of Serb leaders in Bosnia.
A: Well, we were pleased by many aspects of the September 1998 national elections because we feel it developed much greater democratic pluralism in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a process that is important as the country moves to develop strong democratic institutions. What's really critical for the future of the country is for leaders to get beyond looking only at the perception of their own group's interest, their own national interest, and instead work for the future of the country as a whole. And I think that is absolutely a critical issue for the future. But we have hope. We have hope that this will happen.
Q: Gelbard was asked whether there are still hard-line separatists in Bosnia.
A: Well, the hard-liners are becoming smaller, in terms of their size, and that's why I think, out of frustration, they're lashing out more. Those groups are increasingly frustrated, and that's why they call for things like partition or other kinds of nonsensical options. But they see their power becoming lessened, and that's why they're lashing out and engaging in more violent action. But I see these groups diminishing on all sides.
Q: Gelbard was asked whether Bosnia will get stronger or weaker.
A: Well, this is obviously a difficult moment for all the countries, not just in the region, but worldwide. But we will all get through this. We will see a democratic government eventually emerging in Yugoslavia, and I do believe that Bosnia will emerge from this stronger, and I predict a future that is a prosperous, democratic one for Bosnia-Herzegovina."