Briefing on Secretary Clinton's Travel to the Balkans and Brussels
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
MR. TONER: Good morning. Thanks, everyone for joining us, and thanks, especially, to Assistant Secretary Gordon for taking time out of his very busy morning just to walk us through the Secretary’s trip to the Balkans as well as Brussels, next week. Just a reminder, this is on the record and you can use the audio for broadcast as well. And just, if you ask questions, please give your name and media affiliation.
And without further ado I’ll hand it over. Phil.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, Mark. Good morning, everybody, and thanks for coming on the call. I’ll be very brief so we can spend our time on your questions.
As you know, from October 11 to 14th, Secretary Clinton will travel to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, and Brussels. She’s going to the Balkans to underscore the continued commitment of the United States to supporting all the Balkan states as they build prosperous, peaceful, and democratic societies and move to take their rightful places as full members of the European and Euro-Atlantic community.
Secretary Clinton’s visit follows the important trip that Vice President Biden took in May 2009, as well as several others by Deputy Secretary Steinberg, myself, and others in the Administration over the past year. In the Balkans, the Secretary will meet with a range of government officials, civil society representatives, and she will attend events with citizens of these countries. She will take stock of progress in the region, exchange ideas, and engage with these groups on a range of issues. In Brussels, the Secretary will participate in meetings with EU officials and NATO counterparts to strengthen and cement U.S. partnership with the EU and work with allies on the revitalized NATO.
Let me just walk you through what she’s actually going to do. On Tuesday the 12th, in Sarajevo, the Secretary will meet with the Bosnian tri-presidency as well as High Representative Valentin Inzko. She will also dedicate the new embassy compound in Sarajevo which is scheduled to open shortly. On the 12th, in Belgrade, the Secretary will meet with President Tadic, Foreign Minister Jeremic, and Defense Minister Sutanovac. That evening, she will also meet with members of civil society. On Wednesday, October 13th, in Kosovo, the Secretary will meet privately with acting President Krasniqi, Prime Minister Thaci, and Foreign Minister Hyseni. She will then travel to Gracanica, a Serb-majority municipality near Pristina where she will meet with municipal leaders in the Kosovo-Serb community.
After she gets back to Pristina, she will hold a meeting with women’s leaders, other civil society leaders, and youth from all ethnic groups. In all of these stops – Sarajevo, Belgrade, and Pristina – the Secretary will participate in various media events as well as embassy meet-and-greet.
Continuing on to Brussels, on October 14th, the Secretary will meet with EU Council President Van Rompuy and EU High Representative Baroness Ashton, followed by a meeting with European Parliament President Buzek and other EU Parliamentary leaders. Secretary will then join Secretary Gates for a joint NATO ministerial, bringing together foreign and defense ministers from NATO countries. The ministerial will be an opportunity to review progress on the new strategic concept and in the war in Afghanistan.
She will then depart Brussels on the evening of the 14th for Washington. That’s my summary and I’m happy to take your questions.
MR. TONER: Great. Diane, we’ll go ahead and take questions now.
OPERATOR: Thank you. We will now begin the question-and-answer session. If you would like to ask a question, please press *1. Please unmute your phone so that we can hear you clearly. If you would like to withdraw the request, press *2. Our first question comes from Arshad Mohammed from Reuters.
QUESTION: Good morning, Phil. Thanks for doing the call. Two things -- and I apologize if I missed it. I lost you for about 15 seconds. But is she going to meet with the Bosnian-Serb leader Dodik? And secondly, do you have any sense of when Serbia-Kosovo talks might begin?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Okay. Hi, Arshad. On the first, I mentioned the official meetings that the Secretary is going to do with the tri-presidency and High Representative Inzko. As you know, the Bosnians just had elections last Sunday and the tri-presidency changed in part. So the new government hasn’t taken place yet, so she will meet with the existing tri-president. She will have the opportunity to meet separately with Mr. Isetbegovic who is the newly-elected member of the tri-presidency. As for your question about Milorad Dodik, he and other political leaders will be invited to some of the activities and that would be an opportunity for her to see them as well.
QUESTION: Why not actually talk to him separately?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, the tri-presidency is the leadership of Bosnia and that’s who she’s seeing. She could – I mean, if she had more time, travel around and see different leaders of the entities, but there’s not time to go up to Banja Luka and that’s why we’ll invite Mr. Dodik to Sarajevo and there could be an opportunity for a meeting there.
QUESTION: Okay. And then just a quick thing. I mean, as you know, the – Serbia agreed a couple of weeks ago to have, for the first time, have direct talks with Kosovo. Initially, there was a hope that it would begin in October, but the uncertainties about Kosovo and when it’s going to hold its elections may push that off. One, do you have sense of when they may actually be able to begin those talks? And then, yeah, that’s it.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. No, you’re absolutely right. The UN General Assembly resolution called for an EU facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, one which we support; we supported that resolution. And we’re anxious to see the parties get on with that because we think that’s really the way for them to deal with the many practical issues that need to be sorted out between these neighbors. Our view is these would be talks among equals and it would be an opportunity for them both to move forward, resolving the necessary issues so that they can both move forward towards their integration into Europe.
What you mention, Arshad, is right. That in the meantime, the President of Kosovo, Mr. Sejdiu, had to step down because the constitutional court ruled that he couldn’t remain president and party leader at the same time. And because that may lead to elections in Kosovo it would obviously be difficult for them to begin talks during an election campaign. There’s no concrete date for the talks, but it’s important that the talks take place and we expect to be fully involved in that process.
QUESTION: And then, sorry, last thing. Can you talk a little bit about her decision to travel to the – and I’m sorry, I did not catch the name of the town or city, so if you could spell it for me I would be grateful. But the Serb-majority area near Pristina to meet municipal leaders, why is she doing that? Can you expand on that?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. She is going to go to Gracanica, that’s G-r-a-c-a-n-i-c-a, which is a Serb-majority municipality near Pristina. And she’s going to go there to meet with municipal leaders who are Serbs, and this is a sign of our engagement with all communities in Kosovo. We have been absolutely clear from the start that we strongly support Kosovo’s independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity, but we have also encouraged Kosovo to make sure that all ethnic groups are appropriately represented.
Kosovo moved impressively towards organizing municipalities that are Serb majorities and organizing elections there. And those elections have taken place, and in a number of cases, they’ve elected ethnic Serb mayors and it’s important for the Secretary to get a sense from those mayors of their perspectives, how things are going. For Kosovo to succeed, like for all countries to succeed, it needs to make sure that all of its ethnic groups are appropriately represented. So it’s an opportunity to show how much ground Kosovo has made on this issue of democracy and representation of everybody, and to hear the perspectives of the Serb community there.
QUESTION: Is it fair to say it’s partly, then, a way demonstrating the importance of preserving minority rights and ensuring that the Serb population gets its, sort of, due politically?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yes, I mean, I think that’s accurate. We have strongly encouraged Kosovo to make sure that all ethnic groups are represented. We are, as I said, pleased with the progress they’ve made in organizing Serb majority municipalities. A lot of people said that those elections wouldn’t take place, that Serbs wouldn’t vote, and that this couldn’t be done in Kosovo, but it has been done. I’ve met with the mayors myself. Deputy Secretary Steinberg has met with them. This is a significant success for Kosovo.
We also made clear – have made clear from the start that – and Kosovo’s leadership has made clear that concomitant to its sovereignty and territorial integrity is a commitment to respect religious rights, cultural sites, and to give all ethnic groups fair representation. And I think that’s what the Secretary will want to highlight when she goes to Gracanica.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Michele Kelemen with NPR. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Thanks, Phil. I wanted to ask about Kosovo as well. Are you looking for more countries to recognize Kosovo, first of all? But also the European – the idea of pushing for reforms in the Balkans always seems to be to move ahead toward membership in the European Union, but the EU membership seems to be closing down and I wonder if you’re worried about that, if you have any messages for Brussels on this trip.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure. I think – hi, Michele. Look, recognitions, yes; we continue to encourage all countries to recognize Kosovo as we do, indeed as 70 countries around the world and as most members of the European Union do, including most of its neighbors. We believe that Kosovo’s independence as a state is a settled matter and what really needs to happen is for the region to move forward. And as I say, 70 countries have already recognized Kosovo with the – a lot of countries were waiting for the International Court of Justice opinion which came out last month.
And they said – Serbia took this issue to the International Court of Justice and asked that the court make a judgment of whether the declaration of independence was consistent with international law, and that’s precisely what the court opinion said it was. So we feel like that – with that clarification having been made, it was always our view that Kosovo’s declaration of independence, because of the unique circumstances in Kosovo and UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the humanitarian crisis and the international community’s role for more than a decade, that this was the only way forward and a legal way forward. And, again, 70 countries have agreed with that. And we think with the ICJ opinion, there will be more on the way. And we’ve also said that with that fact established, Kosovo and Serbia need to talk, and that’s why we’re encouraged by this idea of beginning a dialogue between the two.
Yes, I did mention the path to the European Union, Euro-Atlantic institutions, because that is the only path for the Balkans. We have seen in other parts of Europe that the incentive of EU membership has encouraged countries to reform, to combat corruption, to reform their economies, to make peace with their neighbors. And that dynamic will be important in this case as well.
And yes, the bar is high and the European Union is demanding. But I think all Europeans agree that this is – that the future of the Balkans is in the European Union. And we’ve seen the progress that some of the neighbors have made, and we will encourage the EU. That’s no secret. And the Secretary will go and, as I mentioned, meet with EU leaders on Thursday and continue to underscore that we believe that a path to European Union membership must be made clear to these countries, obviously, following strict criteria, but that it will be the key to getting them to make the right decisions, including recognizing each other and cooperating.
QUESTION: And just to be clear, when you call for a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, is the issue of borders open for discussion?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, our view is clear that Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity must be preserved and the issue of status should not be on the table and any notion of partition must not be on the table. Our view is that going down that path would be a disaster for the region. If you opened up the door to discussing borders and changing borders, it wouldn’t stop there and it would raise all sorts of questions throughout the region, which is why we need to be absolutely clear. But with that clear, there is much for these two countries to practically discuss which would help improve the lives of the people in the region and make both of them better candidates for the European Union. And membership in the European Union, as it has for other countries, would be an important factor to make the issue of borders less important.
QUESTION: Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Inga Swanke with Voice of America. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Good morning. Thank you for organizing this conference. I have a couple of questions. There’s been talk about new U.S. strategy which you touched upon towards Bosnia with this new leadership or not so new leadership. If you could summarize it in a strategic message to Bosnian people, what would it be?
My second question would be you mentioned that Madam Secretary will be meeting with NGOs and civil society in Belgrade, but is that – are there going to be similar meetings in Sarajevo as well since one of the segments of the new strategy was a stronger engagement with civil society?
And then my third question would be related to NATO. It’s been talked about in Washington, and one thing that everyone agrees upon is the membership in NATO is something that would be good for all three constituent people in Bosnia regardless of their political disagreements. Otherwise, do you think there’s going to be some kind of expedited procedure towards Bosnian full membership in NATO, especially taking into account that they have signed MAP, but they have not fulfilled any of the conditions required?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. Thanks for that. I’ll take your questions in reverse order. On NATO membership and the Membership Action Plan, we supported, along with the rest of the alliance, extending a Membership Action Plan for Bosnia for just the reason that you say, that it is a uniting force in a country that otherwise, in some ways, is pulled in different directions. It seems to us that all communities in Bosnia agree that NATO membership would be a good thing. Though, we supported a MAP for Bosnia, but also underscored strict criteria, namely an agreement among the parties to register fixed defense properties, which is just a lasting issue from the war that has still not been sorted out. And it was important for NATO to make clear that there are criteria for beginning the MAP process.
And so Bosnia was told at the last NATO ministerial that allies would welcome their beginning their annual national program and the process of MAP participation when they completed this issue of this issue of sorting out defense properties. And unfortunately, they – leaders haven’t made progress on that issue in the meantime. We’ll encourage them to do so. We do think it would be a good thing for Bosnia to be in MAP, again, for the reason you say; it can be a uniting factor in Bosnia. But at the same time, there are clear conditions and the Secretary will have an opportunity to encourage the leaders to meet those conditions so the MAP process can move forward.
You asked about engaging the civil society. Yes, she will also, in Bosnia, have the opportunity to do a townhall meeting with university students and civil society. As always, when the Secretary travels, it’s important for her to meet not just with leaders and politicians, but also to get a sense of what people in the country are thinking, to carry a message to the country. And that segues into what was your first question about the U.S. approach and the message. I wouldn’t call it a new U.S. strategy, because our strategy has remained the same, which is strong support for Bosnia and its sovereignty and territorial integrity and encouragement of leaders to move forward to help build a functioning state.
And the engagement with university students and civil society will be an opportunity to send the message that that is Bosnia’s future. And as I said in response to the previous question, the past two – European Union and NATO membership is also Bosnia’s future, but to realize that future, leaders and parties and different ethnic groups are going to have to work together more than they have in the past. And in our own – some of our engagement with Bosnians, we have detected in the next generation an interest in Europe and a desire to move down that path. And the Secretary will want to carry this message not just to the leaders of Bosnia, to the political leaders of Bosnia, but to other citizens and the next generation as well.
QUESTION: And if I may just ask one more question, I’d really appreciate it. Like I said, this has been a strategy previously and did not quite work. We have new – kind of old new government, almost the same power players. What is the mechanism to entice better cooperation this time around?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah. Well, there’s been some continuity after the elections, but also some change. And we’ll, as I said, have a chance to meet with the newest member of the tri-presidency as well. But the message is going to be consistent and it’s going to be a joint message between the United States and the European Union, just as it was when Vice President Biden traveled together with High Representative Solana. And we will be consistent in that message, because it really is the only path forward. And especially, we hope, as Bosnians see some of their neighbors moving forward on this path, beginning with visa liberalization and then stabilization and association agreements and trade agreements and then accession talks and ultimately membership, they will realize too that cooperating internally brings many benefits for the European path, which is really the only possible future for Bosnia.
QUESTION: Would that include talks about constitutional reforms?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We have long maintained that Bosnia requires constitutional reforms. We regret that those reforms weren’t undertaken before this election, in particular the provision that keeps non-Bosniac Serbs or Croats from standing for election for the presidency of the upper house of the parliament. That reform, I think Bosnians know is something that is going to have to be undertaken to pursue this EU path. There are no doubt other constitutional changes that would be useful as well, but we think we need to leave it to the Bosnians to design their own constitution. We can’t and don’t intend to try to impose it from the outside. But yes, I think there’s a widespread agreement and it’s certainly our view that constitutional reform is necessary in Bosnia.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ilir Ikonomi for its Albania Service of Voice of America. Go ahead.
QUESTION: Yeah, I’m asking a question also on behalf of the Macedonian Service of the Voice of America. My question is why is Secretary Clinton shunning Albania and also Macedonia on this trip?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I want to clearly say this: The Secretary isn’t shunning anybody. She was very keen to travel to the region for the reasons I mentioned. She regrets that she’s not going to be able to visit all of the countries in the region on this trip. Her time is extraordinarily limited. You know how deeply engaged she is in the Middle East process. She has to be in Brussels for an important ministerial on Thursday. And so we’re delighted that she’s able to take this trip even if she can’t get to every country in the region.
But we have also been very much engaged with Albania, which is a new NATO ally and an important troop contributor for Afghanistan, and we’re working closely with Albania. Montenegro has moved forward with reforms. Macedonia, which I visited recently myself, we believe will be in NATO as soon as the name issue is resolved. Croatia is in its final phase of EU integration. And many of these countries are also moving forward in regional relationships – Croatia, Serbia, Bosnia, and so on. So we’re very much engaged in the entire region. On this trip, the Secretary won’t be able to go to all of these countries, but we’re pleased that she’s able to do the three that I mentioned.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Erol Advovic with the BH Radio One Deutsche Welle. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Thank you, Mr. Gordon, for giving us this briefing. It’s actually a little bit difficult to ask a question when you have exhausted all your questions by the previous questions. Anyhow, regarding the Secretary Clinton touch on needed constitutional reform in Bosnia, and bearing in mind last five somehow failed attempts with the Prud and Butmir process, would you consider a new approach, and how? And what would be the Secretary’s Clinton message on that in Sarajevo to the newly elected leaders?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, I think, as you say, I’ve tried to suggest what the message will be. It’s not for us to hand-carry a constitution to the Bosnians. If this is going to work, they have to be doing it and for the right reasons. And obviously, we have ideas; some of those were put on the table in what you called the Butmir process. That process was useful. Those ideas were aired. They’re on the table. I suspect that in the future, Bosnians would be coming back to some of them. So it was helpful in clarifying, especially in the EU context, what they’re going to need to do. And the Secretary will take the message to them that it is incumbent on them to confront the constitutional changes that are necessary, but it’s something that they’re going to have to do themselves. We’re not going to be presenting a package for them.
QUESTION: But if I may as a follow-up, would you say that the Butmir process is now dead and you are approaching totally – in totally new way, and how? And also, are you afraid that somehow that the forming of new government will take longer than one should consider or expect it, and that that could also jeopardize your efforts to support the constitutional and all other reforms in Bosnia?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, on the first, no, I wouldn't say Butmir process is dead in the sense that it was never meant to be a one-shot, we go in and either agree to constitutional reform or give up forever. It was an opportunity to exchange views on some really difficult issues. Some creative ideas were put on the table. As I say, I believe that Bosnians will have to come back to some of these ideas. Now you’ll have a partly changed political lineup, and whatever you want to call the next phase of the process – you can call it an extension of Butmir or something totally different – ultimately, the leaders are going to have to make adjustments to have a more functional state. And if and when they have a more functional state, they will all benefit.
I have to say that part of our message as well is that I think the Bosnian people are more focused on issues like unemployment and desire to have a more prosperous economy than in some of the political squabbles that we’ve seen. And if creating a more functional state could help deal with some of the economic problems, it would be a wise thing for political leaders to do.
As for the formation of the government, these things are sometimes complicated, but I don’t have any reason to believe it will take an undue amount of time. And obviously, that’s for Bosnians themselves to sort out.
QUESTION: Just one quick more. In Belgrade, is the Madam Secretary going to ask President Tadic what’s going on with Ratko Mladic still at large?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m sure the Secretary will raise the issue of Mladic with her Serb counterparts. This remains a very high priority for the United States to see Mladic brought to justice. We have been working with Belgrade on that agenda. It’s our impression that the Government of Serbia is making a serious effort to find him, and we and the tribunal have offered advice on how to do so. And this is critically important for the United States. We believe it’s critically important for the Government of Serbia. And I’m confident that time is not on Mladic’s side.
QUESTION: Thank you.
OPERATOR: Our next question comes from Ivan with ITAR-TASS News Agency. Go ahead, sir.
QUESTION: Hello, I’m from the ITAR-TASS News Agency. Two brief questions, please. The first one: What is the future for American military base in Kosovo, Bondsteel? And another brief question: Will NATO’s partners in Russia particularly be introduced to the new NATO strategic policy plan? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sorry, clarify the second one again on – about the new Strategic Concept? What about it?
QUESTION: Will NATO’s partners, and Russia particularly, be introduced to them, to the new Strategic Concept plan?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, okay. Again, to do this in reverse order, the Strategic Concept is something for NATO members to elaborate and agree on, and that process will be done by NATO members. But NATO has extensive engagement with Russia and all of its partners on all of the issues relevant to the Strategic Concept. The NATO-Russia Council ministerial was just held in New York and provided a good exchange of views where the alliance itself and member states are in constant touch with all of the partners who will have a chance to voice their perspectives on European security that NATO will take into account because partnership is a critical matter for the alliance.
On Bondsteel, you’re referring to the American presence, part of the KFOR operation. As you know, we think KFOR continues to play an important role in providing security. One day, we would like to get to the point where KFOR is no longer necessary and an independent and sovereign and safe and secure Kosovo which has good relations with its neighbors. We’re not there yet. KFOR has been drawing down. We expect that process will continue, but in a measured and careful and deliberate way, these issues are still being discussed at NATO. We believe that KFOR’s presence is still necessary for a foreseeable future.
MR. TONER: Phil, Mark here. I think we have time for just a couple more questions.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, maybe one more, Mark, because I got to –
MR. TONER: Understood. Okay.
OPERATOR: Thank you. Our next question then comes from Halil Mula. Go ahead.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Hi, go ahead.
QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, thank you. It was nice seeing you a few weeks ago with Kosovo’s delegation at the Waldorf-Astoria. Can you hear me?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Yeah, go right ahead.
QUESTION: Okay. I have an impression that everyone is somehow competing how to praise Serbia with their so-called cooperation with EU and international community. They had this visa lifted, now the lobbying for Serbia to get status of the candidate for the membership in EU. I’m not against it at all, but at the same, Kosovo is being left in the ghetto. The only one that – now, Albania and Bosnia probably by the end of the year they going to get it. What’s going to happen with Kosovo? Will Secretary Clinton bring this up to Brussels? I mean, visa liberalization for Kosovo. Second, would be are USA taking active participation in the Kosovo-Serbia talks, and will these talks wait for the elections in Kosovo to take place and new government to be formed?
Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you. What you say about Kosovo and EU membership is important. We believe that Kosovo should also be on the path to European Union membership, and the EU should think about just as it holds out incentives for Serbia when it meets criteria and engages constructively, it should be doing the same thing with Kosovo. And the visa liberalization process has strict criteria that have to do with immigration issues and corruption and travel that don’t have a political aspect but have to be met. But it should absolutely form part of a path whereby Kosovars, just like Serbs, understand that doing the right thing, which includes constructive engagement with your neighbors, helps facilitate your EU path. So I agree with that idea that the EU should be focused on this as well, and I do think the Secretary will raise Kosovo’s EU future with the EU, just as she’ll raise Serbia’s EU future with the EU.
Yes, I think the U.S. should – the modalities of the talks are still being sorted out. The UN resolution called for EU facilitated talks and that’s what the process should be. And who exactly plays which role remains to be determined, but yes, we do expect to be actively involved. We have major commitments in the region. We’re committed to the same things that the EU is committed to and we’ll be there involved as well.
As I mentioned, also the timing of the talks have to be sorted out, including in the context of Kosovo’s possible elections. But the EU, as the facilitator, will have to make a judgment, together with parties, on when the right time to begin is.
Thanks to everybody for joining the call. I hope it was useful, and see some of you on trip.
MR. TONER: Thanks, Phil. And everybody, have a good day.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thanks, bye.
OPERATOR: Thank you. That concludes our call for today.