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Interview: Kosovar Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj

Interview: Kosovo Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj
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During a visit to Prague on December 3, Kosovo's Foreign Minister Enver Hoxhaj sat down with RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz to talk about Pristina's concerns, aspirations, and accomplishments since unilaterally declaring independence from Serbia in 2008. This is an edited transcript of the interview.

RFE/RL: Kosovo and Albania have made a call for Carla Del Ponte, the ex-chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, to be investigated for abuse of power in connection with her push for a war crimes trial against Kosovo's former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj -- a trial in which The Hague tribunal last week acquitted Mr. Haradinaj. Could you explain Pristina's position in making this call?

Enver Hoxhaj: We think that Carla Del Ponte misused its powers and its competences, and our government has asked for a proper, full investigation why she was [pushing for] the second trial when for that, there were not at all any kind of facts. And the court has already confirmed that it was actually not necessary. We hope that we are going to have full clarity on that issue because she was humiliating the dignity of Mr. Haradinaj, of our citizens, and of Kosovo as a whole.

(Editor's Note: Del Ponte resigned as the UN tribunal's chief prosecutor on December 31, 2007, before Haradinaj was acquitted in his first trial. A spokesman for Kosovo's Foreign Ministry clarified Hoxhaj's remarks, telling RFE/RL that Del Ponte had aggressively pushed for a partial retrial through a book published in 2008, through diplomatic contacts, and through her public statements.)

RFE/RL: During the recent celebrations for 100 years of Albanian statehood, Kosovo's president made some references to the fact that Albanians don't live in one state, using the expression that Albanians should be "under the same European roof." That is a little vague. Could you please explain what Pristina means by the phrase "under the same European roof?" Is the desire to unite Kosovo and Albania alive in Kosovo? Under which circumstances do you consider the unification of Kosovo and Albania to be an option?

Hoxhaj: Kosovo is [for] the last five years an independent country, and we will remain forever as an independent country. We are very proud that today Kosovo has been recognized by 96 countries in its borders and its territory, and we are doing very well in terms of consolidating the statehood, with an independent Kosovo and within our territory. But at the same time, we are doing pretty well in terms of Kosovo's integration into the international system. We just got membership in the EBRD [European Bank for Reconstruction and Development] three weeks ago. That means we don't have any kind of goal to join another country in the region to change the borders, but the only aspiration which the Republic of Kosovo has as an independent state is membership into the European Union -- and we are supporting massively the membership of all other countries in the region to the European Union.

RFE/RL: Palestinians are celebrating what they see as de facto recognition of a Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly by its vote to upgrade the Palestinians' status to a "nonmember observer state." What are your thoughts on this as a precedent or path for Kosovo at the United Nations?

Hoxhaj: For the time being, we are very happy that the process of recognition is actually unstoppable -- that each second week there are new countries who are formally and officially recognizing Kosovo as an independent state -- and that in the last five years we were able to get membership in very important institutions like the World Bank, the [International Monetary Fund], and the EBRD. We don't have any plan at the time being to apply for membership in the United Nations. When the time is going to be right to apply for [UN] membership, we are going to do that.

Our first goal is now really getting membership into the European Union. And I think this year was for Kosovo a very important year because the European Commission published a feasibility study. That study says, in a very clear way, that Kosovo can start the process of negotiation regarding the stabilization and association process. And we are hoping next year we will start that process. Signing our Stabilization and Association Agreement with the European Union is going to be actually a very important contractual relationship between the Republic of Kosovo and the European Union.

RFE/RL: Kosovo's agreement with Serbia on integrated border management is meant to be implemented on December 10. What is the practical side of this agreement and why is it important for Kosovo?

Hoxhaj: Last December, we reached an agreement with the Republic of Serbia as an independent state. That agreement is foreseeing that on the border between the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia, we should build six crossing points. And for the time being, as we are talking about this issue, on the ground we have started the preparation to build four crossing points. This is nothing [but]...from the Serbian side a de facto and a Euro- recognition of Kosovo's border. And recognizing Kosovo's borders means actually accepting the reality of an independent Kosovo which is starting after that border.

RFE/RL: Do you expect the new government in Belgrade to abide by previous agreements made between Belgrade and Pristina? And are you concerned about Serbia swinging back toward nationalism under President Tomislav Nikolic?

Hoxhaj: We were very surprised that the current leadership [of Serbia] came back to power after 12 years. But we think that this was the verdict of citizens in Serbia; I mean, they have been elected by the people in Serbia. Our approach is actually very clear. We are very much interested to build a normal relation[ship] with the Republic of Serbia as an independent state. There are some open bilateral issues between the two countries, and solving these open bilateral issues would be in the interest of our citizens of both countries. But at the same time, it is pretty clear for both countries -- and mostly for Serbia -- that Serbia cannot move in the European agenda if they are not building normal relations with Kosovo as an independent state as its partner.

Both of the prime ministers met two times -- last October and this November. And I think, after two days, there is going to be the third meeting where we are going to start issues like dismantling the illegal security structures in the north of Kosovo, then opening two liaison offices in both capitals who are going to be very important channels in communication between the two governments, and then allowing Kosovo to get membership in different international organizations -- which is very crucial for us. But, I mean, this is happening within the framework of the European agenda.

RFE/RL: Under what circumstances would Kosovo be willing to exchange territory with Serbia in order to resolve disputes between Belgrade and Pristina?

Hoxhaj: Never. I mean, we are against [a] change of the borders of the Balkans. We are against [a] change of territories of the Balkans. The map of the Balkans is fixed. What Kosovo and Serbia and other countries in the region should do is reform in their own countries, building Europe within each country and moving them in the direction of European integration.

RFE/RL: A lot of your work in the past year has focused on gaining recognition for Kosovo's independence from different countries around the world. What countries do you expect will recognize Kosovo's statehood in the near future?

Hoxhaj: I have a very good indication that in the next months to come there are going to be more than five to seven countries who will take the decision to recognize Kosovo. But it is not my job as the minister of foreign affairs of Kosovo to talk about the decisions which are going to be taken by other governments. But I was visiting a lot of the countries during this year. I am in contact with many friends and colleagues who are ministers of foreign affairs and I am pretty sure that in the next weeks to come there is going to be good news for Kosovo.