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Balkan Report: August 8, 2007

Kosovo: Final Status 'Should Be Decided By December'

U.S. envoy Frank Wisner (file photo)

August 7, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Mediators from the international Contact Group on Kosovo are due to embark on a last-ditch round of shuttle diplomacy this week. The Contact Group has set up a diplomatic troika to arbitrate the talks between Serbia and Kosovo’s independence-seeking ethnic-Albanian majority. The talks are expected to last no more than 120 days.

The troika members -- U.S. envoy Frank Wisner, Russia's top Balkans diplomat Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, and Germany's Wolfgang Ischinger, who represents the EU -- are due to meet first in London on August 9, and then travel to Pristina and Belgrade.

RFE/RL correspondent Ilirjana Bajo on August 3 discussed the possible outcome of the troika’s efforts with U.S. envoy Wisner.

RFE/RL: Ambassador Wisner, what are the modalities for the new round of negotiations, and can we say that the countdown of 120 days has already started?

Frank Wisner: The [UN] secretary-general's statement points to the conclusion -- that is, that he expects on or before December 10 a report from the troika. Therefore, we are in business, and I expect to join [Germany's envoy] Ambassador [Wolfgang] Ischinger and my Russian colleague [Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko] this week in London, and I expect to travel right on to the region. So the ball is in play.

RFE/RL: So the first step will be the troika visit to the region, but do you plan direct talks between Pristina and Belgrade?

Wisner: Well, I think at this point the three of us need to sit down and think about the weeks ahead. We also need to have an immediate meeting -- we have to have an early meeting -- with the parties in order to ascertain their wishes. So, I do not want to predict how this will end. I don't rule anything out. This is a serious negotiation and we have to cover important ground and see if its possible to identify common points and move the region toward peace and stability. So nothing is ruled out, but again, we are just getting started, and I do not want to predict the format that will be followed.

Intensive Engagement Expected

RFE/RL: Is it correct to say at this point that you do not have a format of negotiations and a detailed agenda?

Wisner: No, except to say, the important point -- which is [that] both parties -- the government in Belgrade and the authorities in Pristina have given us their solemn assurance that they will participate fully in this round of discussion. It will be a serious one. The three of us, the Contact Group behind it, and the secretary-general have all called for an important, intensive engagement during the weeks ahead. And so it is going to be a serious effort and we will look at all possible avenues to finding the points I mentioned to you -- ways to reach peace and stability in the region.

RFE/RL: Although a detailed agenda does not exist at this stage, could you elaborate on the topics you are going to discuss?

Wisner: Both sides to this, Belgrade and Pristina, have their thoughts. They should be given full rights to put their thoughts out on the table. I won't be able to describe what they are until I hear them. But I think the initiative in terms of issues that should be addressed -- the responsibility -- lies very heavily with the parties in the region.

Ahtisaari Plan Still 'Central Building Block'

Martti Ahtisaari (NATO)

RFE/RL: You have also participated in the previous round of negotiations, which was led by former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari. What will be different this time, and why should one expect this new round of talks to be successful?

Wisner: President Ahtisaari's negotiation was enormously important, it was carefully done, his conclusions had the broadest possible support, including from my government. He has defined a path forward of protections for minority communities, he has set up the terms for international supervision. All of these points are there -- they are important. We do not have to go back, and review and revisit. His is the essential building block. Now the parties will have one last chance to see how they want to go forward.

I am certain that the Serbian side will want to focus on the issue of status. I am sure the Kosovo Albanian side will want to address the same question. Then there are questions how Kosovo and Serbia get on in the future and how they fit in to the region. There are many issues they can raise, but I am not -- and let me underscore, not -- suggesting an agenda for this talks. I believe the responsibility lies with the parties and we have been assured that they will contribute in serious manner.

Forum For Final Review

RFE/RL: UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon made clear that he expects a report from Contact Group before December 10. Does it mean that Kosovo's status issue will go back to Security Council after that date?

Wisner: We are not at December 10, so you’re kind of asking me a very hypothetical question. But as far as the United States is concerned, this is the final round of negotiations. This ought to bring the matter to a conclusion. We should be able at the end of the 120 days to reach a decision on [Kosovo’s] final status.

RFE/RL: Keeping in mind the current positions of the two sides, it is unlikely that an agreement will be reached at the end of the 120 days. Have you thought what next, how you would proceed in such a case?

Wisner: I tried to answer that from the point of view of the United States of America. This is the forum for a final review of the Kosovo matter, and then a decision on final status should be taken.

RFE/RL: So after 120 days would you be ready to recognize Kosovo’s independence, a solution that is supported by U.S. President George W. Bush, despite Russia’s opposition?

Wisner: I think, at this stage, let’s get through this 120 days. The position of the United States is clear. The President [Bush] announced it in Tirana, as you've noted. That position is not going to change, we stand firmly beside it. But the task immediately ahead is to get the two parties to lay out their final ideas, proposals, suggestions, and bring this matter to a conclusion before December 10.

Enough Time Has Been Spent

RFE/RL: There are voices, which have created concern among the Kosovo side that partition could be put on the negotiation table. Keeping in mind that it goes against the Contact Group’s principles, does the United States plan to oppose it?

Wisner: The Contact Group laid down as a fundamental guiding principle to the negotiations of the future [status] of Kosovo, no division of Kosovo. We have never changed in that view, we think it is a very bad idea and we will continue to oppose it.

RFE/RL: When can we see the solution to the Kosovo status issue? By the end of this year? By the end of next year?

Wisner: I hope by the time that was given to us during the period leading up to December 10. As far as the United States is concerned, at that point we move ahead. Enough time has been spent. We need clarity.

Kosovo: Analyst Says Ahtisaari Plan Still Relevant

UN special envoy for Kosovo Finnish Martti Ahtisaari

July 23, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- The United Nations Security Council on July 20 decided against a vote on a resolution on the final status of the internationally administered province of Kosovo. Instead, the issue is being passed to the six-nation Contact Group. RFE/RL's Balkans analyst Patrick Moore discusses what is likely to happen next.

RFE/RL: Was the decision by the UN on July 20 a surprise?

Patrick Moore: No, not really. What was involved was the United States and the other Western powers agreeing not to press the resolution in the Security Council because they knew there would be a Russian veto. The idea, since the way through the UN is obstructed, is to withdraw and move around the obstruction by taking the work into the international Contact Group.

RFE/RL: Can this be seen as a diplomatic victory for Russia?

Moore: It's hard to say, because I guess anybody can read into it what they want to. It's also an acknowledgement -- and to me this was the important thing -- by the major powers within the European Union that the road through the UN was going to get nowhere, and that the matter had to be taken outside the UN. And so, in this case, I see it as a victory for the United States. Frankly, I think that the Americans gave up on the UN route, probably along with the British, months ago -- they could see where it was going. And the exercise that had to be gone through in introducing different resolutions was mainly aimed at convincing countries like Germany and Italy that if they wanted a solution to the Kosovo problem then it was going to have to be done outside the UN. The point was that they were walking it through, showing that they were doing everything they could to be accommodating to the Russians and the Serbs.

RFE/RL: If Kosovo declares independence unilaterally, it will need the support of European countries -- it already has the support of the United States. What are the countries in Europe that are unlikely to support Kosovo's independence?

'You're going to have this high unemployment rate, particularly among young males, and that's a recipe for disaster anywhere.'

Moore: What seems to be going on is that the [Kosovo] Albanians, I'm pretty sure, are clever enough not to go down the route of a unilateral declaration of independence. This isn't in the cards and the Americans are not encouraging them to take this route. I think we're going to be getting a continuation of what we had before -- namely, the Americans diplomatically [and] carefully preparing the ground so that everyone can move forward together. In this morning's "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" there is an interview with [European Commission President Jose Manuel] Barroso in which he says quite clearly that the EU has to have an agreed-upon line. So what we will have is, I would guess, a fairly unified position with the usual amount of horse trading. So for example, there are two countries that have had special reservations about Kosovo because of their own minority issues, namely Spain and Slovakia. These countries, along with a few others, will require some special persuading, but it's not insurmountable.

RFE/RL: So are there parts of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan that are still very relevant?

Moore: The United States and the EU have agreed to accept the Ahtisaari plan and I think that's ultimately what's going to go forward. The Ahtisaari plan was presented in 2006 following a recommendation in 2005 by a Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide. Both these Scandinavian diplomats were tasked by [then UN Secretary-General] Kofi Annan to look into the situation and make recommendations. Both men came to the conclusion that failure to resolve the status question of Kosovo was contributing to instability and uncertainty throughout the region. [So there is] a real practical grounds for moving forward on the Ahtisaari plan and I don't think this is lost in Washington or Brussels.

RFE/RL: But couldn't Kosovo declaring independence also be a source of instability on the ground?

Moore: If they did it without preparing the way, without any support from major powers, it certainly could be. The unilateral declaration of independence that I referred to before, or UDI, was that of the Ian Smith government in what was then Southern Rhodesia (Eds: Smith declared independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. Rhodesia is now Zimbabwe) and they didn't have any international backing for this. They got the enmity of Britain for the way they went about it and the results were predictable. I don't think that there's going to be any real danger of the hotheads holding sway among the Albanians. So I really don't think that that's a realistic scenario.

RFE/RL: On the ground in Kosovo, do you think that patience is running a little thin?

Moore: It certainly is. This is one reason why Kai Eide and Ahtisaari made the recommendation that it's time to move forward. This doesn't have only to do with fulfilling nationalist aspirations, but until they have a clear future, a clear status set down, there's no legal framework, there's no framework for people to know what to do about investments -- and until you get the economy working a little better than it is now, or a lot better than it is now, including through investments from Albanians living and working in Switzerland, Germany, and the United States, you're going to have this high unemployment rate, particularly among young males, and that's a recipe for disaster anywhere.

RFE/RL: Kosovo's prime minister and president are in Washington today for talks with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. What's likely to be on the agenda and how important are these talks?

Moore: I think that the Americans are going to concentrate on making sure that there is a unified policy and approach between Pristina, Washington, and Brussels; that nobody takes any unilateral moves; and that people see that there will clearly be a reward for patience. I was at a conference a few weeks ago in Munich and one of the leading British Albania experts pointed out to the German audience that the Albanians of Albania and Kosovo are probably the most pro-American people on the face of the Earth and the reason for this is that the Americans are the only international power who have kept their word to the Albanians. And for that reason, I don't expect that these talks are going to be particularly rocky.