Background Briefing En Route Sarajevo

Special Briefing
Senior State Department Official
En Route Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
October 11, 2010

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: (In progress) She’ll then go on to Belgrade and she’ll meet with President Tadic. She’ll meet with Prime Minister Mujezinovic. She’ll meet with Defense Minister Sutanovac. And she will also (inaudible) a civil society reception in the region.

And finally she’ll go on to Kosovo, where she’ll meet with the acting president. The president resigned recently, so there’s an acting president (inaudible). She will meet with Prime Minister Thaci and Foreign Minister Hyseni.

And as you all know, Serbia and Kosovo – there was a UN General Assembly resolution last month calling on Serbia and Kosovo to begin a dialogue that would be facilitated by the European Union. And that’s something the United States strongly supports. We want to see Serbia and Kosovo talking to each other. The United States strongly supports Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we firmly believe that the talks between Serbia and Kosovo must not be about status or questioning Kosovo’s independence or sovereignty, but like all neighbors, there is a range of practical issues that they need to talk to each other about.

And so we fully support this General Assembly resolution calling for this dialogue, and it will be an opportunity for the Secretary to speak to the leaders of both Serbia and Kosovo about how they can together move forward to deal with the practical issues between them and both continue on the path to integration in Euro-Atlantic relationships.

QUESTION: One clarification. (Inaudible.)


QUESTION: (Inaudible) newly elected or (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No. For two-thirds of it, it’s reelected. I mean, there was an election for all of them. Two of them were re-elected, the Croat Mr. Komsic and the Serb Radmanovic. And the Bosniac Haris Silajdzic, part of the current tri-presidency, was not reelected and he’s being replaced by Bakir Izetbegovic.

QUESTION: Can I ask you a general question about Bosnia? I think there’s a general feeling or view that the political process is stalled. The Serb – ethnic Serbs are talking about secession and this is kind of a (inaudible). How would you (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I think it is fair to say that the political process is stalled, and that’s one reason the Secretary wanted to come here and underscore for the parties their need to move forward with the types of reforms that will strengthen, again, their candidacies for European Union membership and NATO membership.

And we’ve been quite clear that we believe that further reforms are necessary in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States was deeply involved in a process last year to try to encourage those reforms and put a number of ideas on the table with the parties. And ultimately, the parties weren’t able to move forward and put that off, especially with elections coming up. And we see this as an opportunity now in the wake of those elections, and in part because of some of the changes those elections brought about, and there was a significant degree of support for candidates who crossed ethnic lines and are talking about the need for Bosnia to overcome these divisions. Now is an opportunity. And I think the European Union has been clear with Bosnia, we’ve been clear with Bosnia, NATO has been clear with Bosnia the types of reforms they need to undertake. And the Secretary is going to Sarajevo, in part, to reinforce that message and make clear that if Bosnia wants to move forward in this direction, that’s what they’re going to have to do.

QUESTION: Is the Secretary coming with any specific new incentives to try and get them along the road, or just underscoring what’s already on the table?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, I mean, I think the incentives are clear. We don’t believe it’s for us to tell them how to reform their constitution or adapt it. That needs to be – those need to be Bosnian ideas and there has to be buy-in from the parties. So we’re not – the Secretary is not coming to tell them what to do.

She will, though, reinforce the United States has long been invested in this part of the world, that President Clinton’s Administration obviously made significant investments in troops, in capital, in political attention, and we care a lot about this part of the world. And she’s coming to underscore that the Bosnians need to follow up. The rest of the region is moving towards Europe, and Bosnia is going to have to overcome these ethnic divides and leaders who have to stop putting partisan and ethnic interests above the interests of Bosnia and Herzegovina if they want to move down this path.

This is a part of Europe – Europe has made tremendous strides over the past two decades, including the Clinton Administration, towards becoming a Europe whole, free, democratic, in peace that we want to see. And there are parts of Europe that still have further to go along that path. The direction is clear. I think the Bosnians know what direction it is. And she will underscore that they need to continue the reform process if they’re going to reach that goal.

QUESTION: What’s the (inaudible) concerns in the Kosovo situation? (Inaudible) the practical issues (inaudible) for years (inaudible) border, sovereignty. You know, why take those on later? Why not take them on now? And what (inaudible) the Secretary (inaudible) do to push them to (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the two specific issues you mentioned, border and sovereignty, we believe that that discussion is over. We are absolutely clear that Kosovo is a sovereign, independent state, and we know where the border is. So that is not going to be part of the talks. But if Serbia is going to continue down the path to joining Europe and become the stable, prosperous, democratic state that we want and we believe that the Serbs want, then they’re going to need to find a way forward on the issue of Kosovo. So they can start with their practical issues, technical issues, and develop more of a relationship between two equal – negotiations among equals, so that --

QUESTION: What’s the difference between the last two years and now is that now (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, they actually haven’t been grappling in the way they need do on practical issues, in part because, indeed, Serbia has been determined to block Kosovo’s development. It’s only been an independent for two years, but Serbia has been determined to block that.

And we see this as an opportunity as well. Two years ago, the Serbs brought this issue to the International Court of Justice, and they said, to their great credit, we’re going to deal with this in political-legal terms; we’re not going to deal with it, as in the past, with military might. And it remained in that channel for two years.

And the International Court of Justice, on July 22nd, issued its advisory opinion that made clear, as was our view all along, that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not in violation of international law; it was consistent with international law. And we believe that now that that process has played itself out and the International Court of Justice has underscored, as we believed all along, that this was a legal action, that it’s time to turn the page on that.

And the framework for Kosovo’s independence provides significant autonomy and governance mechanisms for the ethnic Serbs who live in Kosovo. We are determined to support that. We believe Kosovo’s government is determined to support that. Their constitution and the entire framework behind Kosovo’s founding ensures protections for Serb religious sites, cultural sites. We believe that the Kosovar Government is committed to that, and as are we.

And this is with the ICJ opinion in July, followed by the September 9th General Assembly resolution, that Serbia, to its credit, agreed with a consensus text put forward by the European Union. We’re making progress here, and it provides us with an opportunity to turn the page.

In that sense, the Secretary’s visit is very timely. It’s coming on the heels of this General Assembly resolution and the call for talks. She can engage with the parties and underscore how much there is to be gained by dealing with each other as equals and moving them both down the path to European integration.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) talk about the NATO process? They offered (inaudible) the MAP process back in the spring (inaudible) with certain conditions. Have they met those conditions?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They have not, and the Secretary in Sarajevo will underscore the need to do so. The United States, Secretary Clinton, as you know, at the NATO ministerial in Brussels in the spring, supported with the rest of the alliance a Membership Action Plan for Bosnia and Herzegovina, but made clear that the mechanism to begin that process, the annual national program, would only take effect when the Bosnians dealt with the issue of mixed defense properties, which are defense properties dating back to the former Yugoslavia whose ownership hasn’t been entirely sorted out among the parties. They are still --

QUESTION: What does that mean? Tanks? (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, tanks can be moved, so that’s in the category of movable --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Those are in the category of movable defense property. And the Bosnians made a significant agreement last year to destroy ammunition and movable defense property as part of this process. That was a positive step.

They failed to agree on the fixed sites – and yes, that’s (inaudible) or properties that cannot be moved. And they have been squabbling over the ownership of that. And the international community (inaudible) the peace implementation committee has said that that is one of the conditions that Bosnia needs to meet. It needs to sort out who owns which properties.

And what NATO said last spring was it wants you to start this process towards the NATO membership and the Membership Action Plan, but you can only start the process when you have registered all of those properties and sorted out the ownership issue. They haven’t made progress on that. We’re disappointed that they haven’t made progress on that. And we will stick to the condition that NATO underscored last spring, which is that that is a condition for beginning the Membership Action Plan in front of them.

QUESTION: Was it the Turks that were making (inaudible) within NATO, or was that Serbia? What was the – I remember there was some horrible to-do with the Turks (inaudible). Was it Bosnia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: The Turks were always strong proponents of a Membership Action Plan for Bosnia. They were among the leaders in pushing for that. Other allies were not convinced, and that discussion helped lead to the position, which is the conditional –

QUESTION: Right, right. So some of those in NATO (inaudible) Turkey was going to block someone else, right?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: No, the Turks pushed for a MAP for Bosnia, and there was a debate among allies. And ultimately, what allies agreed to was this (inaudible) but to note that it only begins – MAP was granted, but to be clear about the terminology, MAP was given to Bosnia --

QUESTION: I want to go back to NATO (inaudible). They were (inaudible) consensus (inaudible) someone else or something else.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the Turks – I mean, I won’t speak for the Turks. They could have – all allies have to agree whenever there’s a NATO communiqué and where there’s a decision like MAP. So I mean, you’d have to talk to the Turks. They could have blocked whatever – they could have blocked the communiqué coming out of ministerial or anything else. But the main point is they were pushing for MAP, the allies agreed to give MAP, but allies noted that before it begins, before the process begins, this condition has to be met. And as I note, we are disappointed that at the time since that ministerial, the Bosnians haven’t --

QUESTION: Just to clarify, but the properties --

QUESTION: (Inaudible.)

QUESTION: Can I just clarify? The properties – they have to go to the (inaudible) over it, or is it (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: They are disputed. Each entity within Bosnia and Herzegovina has a claim for those properties that are on its (inaudible) within the entity. But the bottom line is that (inaudible) peace implementation committee goes back to when Paddy Ashdown was the high representative, and as the parties were debating who owned what, the high representative said no, you need a common agreement on who owns what. And we’ve been waiting ever since for that common agreement to come about, and NATO reinforced that judgment by saying you’re not going to start the MAP process until you’ve agreed.

QUESTION: When was the last time a Secretary of State visited any of these countries, either Bosnia or Serbia or (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I think where Bosnia is concerned, that the answer to your question is that Secretary Powell in 2004 and in 2001 visited Bosnia and Herzegovina.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) been to Serbia, hasn’t he?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I don’t know the last (inaudible). We’ll have to check the last (inaudible) Serbia. And Kosovo’s independence was February 2008.

QUESTION: (Inaudible) mentioned that you were (inaudible) he’s on the Secretary’s schedule? What happened (inaudible)?

STAFF: Can we hold on just one second while we (inaudible)?

STAFF: Sorry, I have to get through.

QUESTION: No, no, that’s fine.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll have to check on the latest. I don’t know what his plans are. He does live and work in Banja Luka, not Sarajevo. She’s going to Sarajevo, where she’ll meet with the tri-presidency, which is the presidency. And there’s a limited time on this trip. In an ideal world, she would --

QUESTION: (Inaudible) invite him to Sarajevo (inaudible)?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: That’s right. Various party leaders and dignitaries and political leaders --

QUESTION: You don’t know that he’s coming?


QUESTION: But it’s possible he might squeeze in? It’s not like they’ve turned her down. It’s not like they said no, he’s not going to come?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: I’ll have to check the latest. An invitation went out to a number of political leaders throughout the country, party leaders, to have an opportunity, not to have a bilat with the Secretary but to have a chance to see her, and I don’t know the latest on what different leaders have said in response to that invitation.

PRN: 2010/T34-1