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Q&A: U.S. Ambassador Says 'Status Of Kosovo Is Settled'

U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Christopher Dell
It has been a week of dramatic political events in Kosovo that saw the election of businessman Behgjet Pacolli as president and the confirmation of a new government headed by Prime Minister Hashim Thaci. RFE/RL Pristina bureau chief Arbana Vidishiqi sat down with U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Christopher Dell to get his take on the developments and the way forward for Kosovo.

RFE/RL: Mr. Ambassador, the new state institutions of Kosovo have now been chosen [president, prime minister, cabinet]. You have urged the political elite to establish a government with "clean hands." Are you satisfied?

Christopher Dell:
Yes, very much so. I think that the media here, in their focus on sensationalist stories of the last few days, has by and large overlooked the transformation that's taken place. I think it's really instructive if you go back and look at the photographs of the cabinet that took power at independence in 2008 and compare that to today. What you witness is a generational shift. There's been a really remarkable change in the faces of this government -- in fact, very few carryovers from the last government. The prime minister [Hashim Thaci], Deputy Prime Minister [Hajredin] Kuci, and one of the Serb ministers are really the only individuals, I think, who were in the initial cabinet.

There's been, as I say, a remarkable transformation that's taken place, and I think that not only does this represent a government with "clean hands," but also a government that represents the changing realities of Kosovo, a move away from the politics of the war generation to the rising generation of young people that are coming of age and taking their rightful places in this society.

RFE/RL: Nevertheless, the political parties in opposition have reacted to the election of the president especially, saying they do not recognize the legitimacy of the newly elected institutions, due to, as they claim, constitutional breaches. How would you comment?

Well, it's not for me to judge constitutional issues. If there is a real problem, ultimately it will be the Constitutional Court that decides that. I'm not surprised, on one level. I mean, the job of the opposition is to oppose. However, I am disappointed, I think, with the rather frivolous nature of their opposition to this government. There are legitimate grounds for debating the real issues that Kosovo faces, the agenda of the government as it is being defined and articulated by the prime minister.

I think that the opposition would really do both itself and Kosovo a favor if they focused their attention less on procedural quibblings and instead looked at the real challenges this country has to deal with: the rule of law, corruption, economic development and growth, creating jobs for the people, better health care for the elderly, education for the children of Kosovo. These are the issues that people really want to talk about and where they want to see change and I don't think the opposition is doing itself any real favors by continuing to play, essentially, insider politics and simply focusing on procedural matters.

RFE/RL: There are some concerns that have been raised publicly on President Behgjet Pacolli's ties to Russia. How would you respond to these concerns?

Well, those are really concerns Mr. Pacolli will have to address. I know that this is a matter of concern to many Kosovars. I believe the president himself is aware of this and understands his need to reassure people on that score.

RFE/RL: What was your role in electing Kosovo’s president? Local media have published private communications that took place at the Assembly, including a phone call involving you.

I don't know what the phone call was supposedly about. As for the SMS texts, I mean, those are texts between two other individuals who, of course, are free to write and comment and say anything they want to -- whether or not they reflect reality. I was a witness to the process. I sat in the gallery of parliament from 2:30 in the afternoon until it was done at 8 o'clock, having left only once in that time to use the men's room, if the truth be told.

For the rest, these were processes that were conducted by the politicians as is appropriate, the leaders of this country, in accordance with the rules of the constitution and the parliament. Other than that, I didn't play any role at all in the selection of the president.

I think the person who probably is most responsible for Behgjet Pacolli being president today is sitting in a jail cell at The Hague. The fact that AAK [Alliance for Kosovo’s Future, which is headed by indicted war criminal Ramush Haradinaj], for its own reasons, chose not to join in the governing coalition made it almost inevitable that Behgjet Pacolli became president.
Newly elected Kosovo President Behgjet Pacolli

RFE/RL: In any case, Kosovo now is in a situation of uneasy relations between the opposition and the newly elected institutions. Under such circumstances, how will Kosovo face new challenges, one of them being the dialogue on technical issues with Serbia?

Well, I think that the only way forward for Kosovo is, in fact, as I said earlier, to get down to the serious business of governance. It is clear that the events of the past couple of months have done harm to the people's faith in their institutions and in their leaders. I think the only way to restore that faith is by the government showing that it is competent, that it is committed, that it is clean, and that it is working for the good of the people. The challenge is on their shoulders to demonstrate that they're worthy of the enormous responsibility that's been invested in them by the people of Kosovo.

RFE/RL: An inevitable question is of course the north. Do you think the issue should be raised in the dialogue?

The dialogue is about Kosovo and Serbia. The north is part of Kosovo. The issues on the table, those technical issues -- whether they be about license plates, civil registries, or electricity flows -- are about the entire territory of Kosovo, including the north. So, yes, in that sense, the north should be included in the dialogue.

If you're asking me, should the dialogue be about the north, no, the answer to that is no. Our view is very clear: the status of Kosovo is settled. The territorial integrity of Kosovo is settled. And there's no room in this dialogue on technical issues for addressing, reviving discredited ideas such as partition or changing the borders.

RFE/RL: Many observers claim now it is not the right timing for Kosovo to enter these EU facilitated talks, with an injured international reputation. What is your view?

Again, I think that the dialogue can be part of the process of rebuilding Kosovo's international image, demonstrating that the leadership here is responsible, demonstrating that it is flexible, demonstrating that it is capable of working with the European institutions -- and, indeed, working with Serbia in order to improve the quality of life for the citizens in both countries, to improve neighborly relations here in the Balkans region. I think all of these things are exactly what we would expect of a confident and mature government such as the one we hope we have here in Pristina.

RFE/RL: Will the U.S. participate in these talks?

We've made it clear to the parties that we intend to play a supporting role in this. This dialogue will be led by and facilitated by the European Union. We think that's appropriate and the right way forward. But we do intend to play a very important supporting role in the entire process.

RFE/RL: The report adopted by the Council of Europe on alleged human-organ trafficking in Kosovo and other crimes has had a big impact. You said "leave no stone unturned" in calling for thorough investigations. Has anything been done so far in this regard?

We are still at a phase of discussing how it is best to organize, to move forward, to conduct the investigation. The United States has made it clear -- most recently in last week's discussions in the UN Security Council -- that we believe that EULEX is the institution with the mandate and the capabilities, the capacities, to conduct this investigation. We hope that over the coming weeks, EULEX will discuss the evidence, the purported new information that [Council of Europe special rapporteur on human rights Dick] Marty has, and can begin the long process of conducting a professional and thorough investigation.