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Balkan Report: May 24, 2007

Ahtisaari Plan Has 'Broad Support' On Security Council

Rosemary DiCarlo (file photo)

May 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- In March, a special UN envoy to Kosovo, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, presented a plan to the UN Security Council recommending granting supervised independence to the Serbian province, which has been administered by the UN since 1999. Ilirijana Bajo of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Services spoke with U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Rosemary DiCarlo about the plan's prospects in the Security Council.

RFE/RL: What are the chances that the [UN] Security Council will adopt the draft resolution on Kosovo's status based on Ahtisaari plan during the U.S. presidency of the Security Council, that is, during May?

"We support the plan that Ahtisaari has on the table, and the plan that Ahtisaari has on the table calls for a Kosovo within the administrative boundaries that we know now."

Rosemary DiCarlo: Let me just say that it our intention to try to have this resolution passed during our presidency. We are working toward that goal. We are very pleased that we have broad support within the council for [former] President Ahtisaari's plan. I think that members of the council appreciate very much the work that President Ahtisaari has done, his efforts to bridge the gap between the two parties. They also, I think, understand that he has come up with a very broad range of protections for Kosovo's Serbs, for minorities in Kosovo. I also think that the Security Council's visit to the region a few weeks ago was very important. It gave members an opportunity to see first hand the situation on the ground. And I think it became very clear to most of the members what President Ahtisaari has said, what UN envoy Kai Eide -- almost two years ago now -- said, which is that...the status quo is not sustainable.

RFE/RL: But Russia continues to oppose supervised independence for Kosovo as it is proposed in the Ahtisaari plan. What are the compromises that the United States and the international community are prepared to make with Russia to avoid Moscow's veto on this issue?

DiCarlo: We are discussing with representatives of the Russian Federation -- as we are discussing with other members of the Security Council -- President Ahtisaari's plan and how to move forward. We have differences of opinion with Russia -- that's very clear -- but we continue to discuss the issue and we hope, indeed, for all of us to be in agreement. Russia has been part of the Contact Group for a long time. We have worked very well with Russia in the Contact Group. Russia was engaged in many of the discussions that President Ahtisaari had with Belgrade and Pristina officials. And I think Russia shares our view in wanting a stable and secure Balkan region -- one that is on its way to the European Union.

RFE/RL: But Russia is insisting that the draft resolution is unacceptable and it is insisting on continuing talks between Pristina and Belgrade. Do you have any thoughts on this? Do you agree with the idea of continuing the talks?

DiCarlo: I think our view is that we have had extensive talks. We have had extensive talks in the last 15 months and longer. The parties have put their ideas on the table. I think that we have reached as many compromises as we can in that particular forum. We do not think that delay is going to bring the parties together, that continued talks on this issue will bring them closer together. Therefore, we think it is time now for the international community to act.

RFE/RL: The International Crisis Group published a report the other day. Among the recommendations was a moratorium on Kosovo's membership in the UN for two years. Is there any chance the international community will take this recommendation into account as a way to find a solution with Russia?

DiCarlo: Let me say that President Ahtisaari's plan calls for Kosovo to be eligible for membership in international organizations, that includes a range of organizations -- the World Bank, the United Nations, OSCE, etc. We are supportive of President Ahtisaari's plan. Each organization, obviously, decides on membership. It is an issue. For example, at the World Bank there are eligibility requirements. We are supportive of President Ahtisaari's plan in total.

RFE/RL: What are the scenarios if the UN Security Council is not able to adopt a resolution on Kosovo? Is unilateral U.S. recognition of Kosovo's supervised independence a possibility?

DiCarlo: I'm not going to speculate on what would happen if we do not have a Security Council resolution. What I am going to say again is that it is our goal to achieve a resolution that paves the way for Kosovo's supervised independence. We believe, as President Ahtisaari believes, that this is the only viable option. Unfortunately, we must view the situation of Kosovo within the context of the breakup of Yugoslavia, and the return of Kosovo to Serb rule is simply not an option at this point. We will continue to work very closely with everybody on the Security Council to move this issue forward. We think it is in not only Kosovo's interest, but very much in Serbia's interest to put this issue behind them. It certainly is in the interest of the entire Balkan region.

RFE/RL: How much time are you prepared to give to your Security Council efforts to reach an agreement? A month? Two?

Marti Ahtisaari (file photo)

DiCarlo: I'm not going to speculate as to timing on this issue. Our goal is to achieve one as soon as we can.

RFE/RL: But the situation on the ground could deteriorate...

DiCarlo: As I said, we will continue to negotiate with others on the council. Continue our discussions with Russia. Continue our discussions with the parties to resolve this issue. We think we have come a very long way and we have to now ensure that we achieve the kind of resolution that is needed so that we can begin to think about the future. The future for Kosovo, which would entail an international presence -- both civilian and military -- to help the Kosovars implement President Ahtisaari's plan. A future for Serbia -- and that's a very bright future in Europe. We need to help Serbia move on that path and resolving Kosovo's status will help and allow government officials in Serbia to focus on the future. And we would hope that future entails membership in NATO, eventual membership in NATO, and we are willing to work with Serbia on the necessary requirements for NATO membership. We think it is extremely important to put the past behind all of us and to move forward. This is something that is key, it is key at this point. I think that we are at a critical point in the region and we need to ensure that we continue the momentum on moving toward a brighter future for everyone.

RFE/RL: Some Serbian leaders have declared that if Kosovo becomes independent they will declare independence for the north of Kosovo with a right to join Serbia. Is the territorial integrity of Kosovo in danger?

DiCarlo: The Contact Group, back in November 2005, made very clear that there were several options that the international community would exclude as part of Kosovo's status. One of them was partition. No partition of Kosovo. We do not think that partition is a viable option or that partition would lead to a more stable Balkan region. And we continue to believe this.

RFE/RL: And if Serbs take such a unilateral step, is the international community ready to act?

DiCarlo: Again, I'm not going to speculate on what might happen if they did this. And we have not heard this from leaders in Belgrade, from government officials. There may have been calls in Serbia, but not with the new government for any kind of partition of Kosovo. We support the plan that Ahtisaari has on the table, and the plan that Ahtisaari has on the table calls for a Kosovo within the administrative boundaries that we know now -- that is, under UN administration.

RFE/RL: How do you see the role of countries neighboring Kosovo -- and I mean Macedonia and Albania -- in this whole process?

DiCarlo: Well, obviously it's important to have good neighborly relations. What happens in the region is extremely important, first and foremost for countries in the region. I know that all the countries that are neighbors of Kosovo, neighbors of Serbia, want to see this issue resolved, resolved soon, and in such a way that it increases security and stability, not decreases it, but obviously we know that this is a difficult issue for Kosovo's neighbors, for Serbia's neighbors. We have seen support among the neighbors for President Ahtisaari and his efforts.

RFE/RL: If you were to speak directly to people in Kosovo, what would you say to them?

DiCarlo: I would say to the people of Kosovo that it's very important that they remain committed to building a multiethnic society in Kosovo; that the international community wants to assist them in these efforts; that we understand their concerns, we understand the difficulties they have had; and we also understand and appreciate their desires for clarity about their future. We agree -- clarity is needed for Kosovo to be stable, clarity is needed for the people of Kosovo to plan their futures and, obviously, clarity is absolutely needed for prosperity and for the economy to improve.

Security Council Remains Divided On Kosovo Status

By Nikola Krastev
May 3, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- After heading a fact-finding UN Security Council mission to Kosovo in late April, Johan Verbeke, Belgium’s UN ambassador, acknowledged that Belgrade and Pristina remain firmly opposed on the issue of Kosovo’s independence. But Verbeke on May 2 also said it was clear that expectations are very high among the majority of Kosovo’s Albanian population for a status resolution to be reached soon -- even before the end of May.

The fact-finding mission was organized and sent on Russia’s initiative. Russia had called for the Security Council’s 15 members to seek a better understanding of the political, social, and economic situation on the ground as they consider a proposal by UN special envoy on Kosovo Martti Ahtisaari, who recommends that Kosovo be granted “supervised independence.”

Russia's UN ambassador said it is unlikely a resolution on Kosovo's status will pass quickly.

Russia and Serbia are strongly opposed to independence for Kosovo. Belgrade said that it was ready to grant Kosovo the broadest possible autonomy while keeping the province within Serbia’s borders. China, like Russia a permanent member of the Security Council, is also opposed to the independence proposal.

The United States and the majority of the European Union states support Ahtisaari's plan.

Return to normalcy

Speaking to reporters after Verbeke's UN briefing, Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said he hopes that there will be a “real discussion,” now that Security Council envoys have been to Kosovo and have seen the situation on the ground with their own eyes. Churkin said it unlikely a resolution on Kosovo's status will pass quickly.

“At least in my view, having been to Kosovo, it is very difficult to argue that the international community is anywhere near implementation of [Resolution] 1244 and its key provisions with regard to creating normalcy, normal life conditions in Kosovo, and with regard to the return of Serbs to Kosovo," Churkin said. "And we’re nowhere near implementation of the standards which were also endorsed by the Security Council.”

Security Council Resolution 1244 was adopted in June 1999, shortly after NATO-led air strikes in April of that year forced the Serbian government of then-President Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw its troops from Kosovo. The resolution set guidelines for returning normal living conditions to Kosovo.

Churkin said that he expects a detailed report by mission head Verbeke, a thorough discussion on that report at the Security Council, and then another thorough debate on the implementation of Resolution 1244.

Churkin also warned that the Kosovo issue must be handled cautiously. “Some suggest that what needs to be done now is for the Security Council to lift Resolution 1244 and replace it with something else, with something which will open the door for independence for Kosovo. In my view, the international community has to respect itself and first of all make sure that its decisions, in this particular case in the form of Resolution 1244, are being implemented,” Churkin said.

Top priority

Zalmay Khalilzad, the U.S. ambassador to the UN, spoke briefly after Churkin, and said the decision on the final status of Kosovo is a priority matter that should not be delayed for long. “We believe that we should move as soon as possible in the aftermath of that report, to bring the situation to a successful conclusion with regard to Kosovo,” Khalilzad said.

Khalilzad is the president of the Security Council for May, and he has made a priority of giving the debate on Kosovo's final status a prominent place in the council’s work program.

In a related development, high-level diplomats from the Kosovo Contact Group of countries are to gather in Britain on May 3 to discuss the next steps on Ahtisaari’s proposal. Officials from Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States are to meet at the Foreign Office in London.

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EU Could Start Talks With Serbia 'Very Soon'

Olli Rehn (left) with President Boris Tadic

May 16, 2007 -- The EU says it can restart talks with Serbia "very soon," once Belgrade has shown enough progress on arresting war crimes suspects.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn was speaking in Belgrade hours after Serbia's parliament confirmed a pro-Western coalition government.

The talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, the first step towards EU membership, were suspended in May 2006 over Serbia's failure to arrest and extradite Bosnian Serb genocide suspect Ratko Mladic.

"There is already clear commitment to European integration and cooperation with the ICTY," Rehn said, referring to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague.

"We expect the new government to rigorously implement its program [on cooperation with the tribunal]. Once that happens, we can resume the SAA process very soon."

Government Approved At Last Minute

Rehn is in Belgrade for talks with President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, whose new coalition was approved on May 15 just before a midnight deadline, averting the need for new elections.

Kostunica says there will be no concessions on Kosovo just for the sake of EU ties.

In a dramatic parliament session, hard-line deputies protested over a late-night police search for Mladic, who they see as a hero, and dragged the debate out to 30 minutes before the constitutional deadline.

Kostunica told parliament his coalition would seek to take Serbia into the EU and cooperate with The Hague tribunal.

Kosovo To Remain 'Province Within Serbia'

But he vowed Serbia would make no concessions on the breakaway province of Kosovo, which a UN-supervised process has set on course for independence, just for the sake of EU ties.

"We would like to state that we will never accept recognition of Kosovo by any side as an act of friendship," he said.

"It will be seen only as an aggressive act of interference in the internal affairs of another state. We would like to say any unilateral recognition of Kosovo may have the consequence of damaging bilateral relations between Serbia and any other state involved. And we will respond in a way that is appropriate in such situations. Our answer to any citizen or country about Kosovo is unchanged: Kosovo remains a province within Serbia."

Kostunica said other key issues for the new coalition will be tackling corruption and instituting social and economic reforms.

The deal on the coalition government was agreed on May 11 after nearly four months of negotiations following inconclusive elections in January.

(compiled from agency reports)