Interview With Ivana Dragicevic of Croatian Radio Television (HRT)

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Dubrovnik, Croatia
July 7, 2012

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, thank you very much for this interview. Your administration at its start pushed a very strong offensive in the Balkans and we wanted to make things done and stable here. You are leaving for, continuing your job at the end of this year, beginning of the next year. How are you satisfied with the situation, particularly in Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Let me first start by saying how delighted I am to be in Croatia and back in Dubrovnik. It’s the second time I’ve attended this summit. It just is a fabulous opportunity for engagement with all of the leaders of the region. Indeed, it’s consistent with your question in the sense that we want to be engaged, show that we’re engaged. So I’m really delighted to be here.

I had a chance to see the President this morning. I congratulated him on Croatia’s EU accession process, which I also highlighted in my speech this morning as a potential model for the region.

The bottom line of our engagement in the Balkans, that we stressed from day one, is that we don’t believe Europe will be complete until this region is a part of Euro-Atlantic institutions, all of it. And that’s our goal. We work very closely with the EU on that. Therefore to see Croatia take the step to join, showing the neighbors that if you do the right thing, make the right reforms, make peace with your neighbors, you can actually join the European Union.

QUESTION: [Inaudible] do you think that the process is developing in the right direction. [Inaudible] years after Dayton in a deadlock, you know [inaudible] and Belgrade after the elections. So are you satisfied?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: No, we’re not satisfied. I put this in the context of four years of the administration, and I would like to have been able to say that more progress was made than there has been. Bosnia-Herzegovina remains frustrating. I think a year and a half of our tenure was spent waiting for them to form a government after the elections. We all waited for these October elections. We hoped that would lead to quick formation of a government, progress on the issues that we care about, and it took too long. The defense property issue that has also been around for far too long and as a prerequisite for the activation of the Membership Action Plan for Bosnia-Herzegovina is still stuck. So we’re very frustrated by that and everything I’ve said from the start. I said it in Sarajevo and I said it here this morning. The leaders of Bosnia-Herzegovina need to put their narrow nationalism of ethnic agendas behind them and serve their people, until they do that the country won’t benefit.

QUESTION: I cannot agree more with you, but you have a framework of Dayton done by the Clinton administration which is kind of, also in a kind of way deadlocked in this country. And you have the players from the inside, you know, who want [inaudible]change. How to get out of this situation because it's endless?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The Dayton framework reflects the complex constituency, of course in a different world you would imagine a different structure. I don’t think anybody would start with Dayton and the complex constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina. But we all know the background and the conflict that it emerged from, and certainly it’s better to see the parties squabbling over government formation and defense property than in conflict. So in that sense the country’s made huge progress. They’ve had integration of military forces. We had Bosnia-Herzegovina contributing forces to NATO international engagements, and in that sense it’s huge historic progress. But there’s still a long way to go and again, I come back to Croatia and its EU accession as a signal to the region.

Croatia also had a lot of difficulties to overcome. Maybe not to the same degree as Bosnia, but it shows that you can actually do it.

That’s the agenda, and that’s the message for Bosnia.

QUESTION: There was a huge media buzz in the last few weeks about U.S. involvement in post-election Serbia. So you’re here. Former President Tadic is here, even though he was not coming to Dubrovnik because of [inaudible] function and because the Kosovars were here. So what’s going on?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all on government formation in Serbia, that’s a question for the Serb people. They had an election, now they’re in the normal process, they elected a President, and they had parliamentary elections, and they are in the normal process of putting together a government.

QUESTION: So the United States will be satisfied with each government that Serbia decides?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We’ll deal with the result of that process. It’s not for us to dictate it or even to play a role in it. I’m actually on my way to Belgrade not to act as a political consultant of government formation, but to show our desire to move forward with the government of Serbia however it is constituted. They have a new President, he’s been inaugurated. I would want to send a message to Serbia that we want to build on U.S.-Serbia relations. We want to see Serbia stay on the path towards EU membership. We want to see economic reform in Serbia and that for Serbia to stay on this positive path it needs to come to terms with its neighbors and most importantly the question of Kosovo. Our view on that has been absolutely clear, and I’ll reiterate it in Belgrade, that we recognize and respect Kosovo’s democracy, sovereignty and territorial integrity and need to see an end of Serbian parallel security structures in Kosovo. But absolutely believe that this can be accomplished consistent with full respect for the rights of all of Kosovo’s citizens, including the ethnic Serbs that live in the north.

QUESTION: Have you met Boris Tadic today?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I haven’t seen him here in Dubrovnik, but he was already on my schedule for Belgrade. I was scheduled to see him there. I’ll probably see him in the course of the conference here, but I’ll definitely meet with him in Belgrade as I have many times when he was President.

QUESTION: [inaudible] Croatia wants to take a stronger role in the region, for the region as we see here in the summit. He is coming here as a former President. We have a process [inaudible]. How do you feel after he boycotted it[inaudible]?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all, indeed, I wish that the elected representatives of Serbia were here at this conference. This is all about bringing the region together and reconciling a region that was plagued by war not that long ago, and it’s a shame that Serbia can’t show up at a regional meeting and engage. Will there be differences? Of course. There are differences among some of the countries here and within some of the countries here. The purpose of a gathering like this is to address them and sort them out. So I regret that Serbia isn’t here on an official level, in the same way we regret that Serbia, the leadership of Serbia and Kosovo aren’t speaking to each other in that official way.

But that said, for the former President of Serbia to show up here, that’s a good thing. He should talk to all of the other representatives of the region as a step towards full integration.

We strongly supported the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and one of the main elements of that was on regional representation. We thought it was a big agreement that there would be a mechanism for Kosovo to participate, to speak for itself, and to represent itself in regional organizations. We regret that that hasn’t been fully implemented. We’re all for more dialogue among the parties.

QUESTION: You’ve talked with Kosovo’s Prime Minister Mr. Thaci. What was that discussion about?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think it reflected what I have just said. Our strong support for Kosovo. I told him that. I think there’s been important progress, even in the past few months. Prime Minister Thaci was in Washington not long ago, in the spring, and saw Vice President Biden, saw Secretary Clinton. I noted in the meeting we had this morning the positive things that have happened since then on visa liberalization with the European Union; the progress on the feasibility study for the Stabilization Association Agreement. The Serbian elections and the facilitation of Serbian citizens in Kosovo went relatively smoothly and we appreciated Kosovo’s role in that. But I also noted our regrets at the absence of progress within the dialogue. We talked about how to move that forward and how to engage with the new government in Serbia.

I think Kosovo wants to move forward with Serbia. That’s partly what the dialogue is about, and I believe they’re ready for a serious discussion.

QUESTION: Everyone is waiting for the Serbian government. Do you think that Tomislav Nikolic being elected the Serbian President can be a facilitator in the Kosovo question? Given his latest statements on Serbia’s stance?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That remains to be seen. We certainly hope so. Secretary Clinton has met with him. I know he’s met with Katherine Ashton. He has said he wants to keep Serbia on the path towards the European Union. We’ve been very clear. We welcome that. We want to see it. But it inevitably requires coming to terms with Kosovo.

We don’t expect that he’s going to recognize Kosovo immediately or even in the near future, but so much can be done short of that, and that’s what the European Union is all about: getting beyond historical disputes and the rigidity of borders; and opening up to free movement of trade and capital and goods; and getting beyond historic divisions. So he’s said that’s what he wants. We’ll take him at his word. That’s one reason I’m going to Belgrade to talk about how to move this process forward.

QUESTION: [inaudible] one is Croatia-NATO-U.S. alliance. We know that Mr. Rasmussen was in Zagreb yesterday. The Prime Minister of Croatia is committed to lead, to stay with its troops fully engaged in Afghanistan. So how do you see this partnership and some new initiatives taken by Secretary Clinton and our newly elected Prime Minister?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all we appreciate Croatia’s contributions to NATO, its ISAF contributions which are very important. We think that at the Chicago Summit some really important decisions were made, the most important of which where Afghanistan is concerned was the notion of in together, out together. We decided together at the Lisbon Summit on a timetable, and all of the members of NATO pledged to meet that timetable which allows for the full transition to Afghan control of security by the end of 2014. And it’s not easy for anybody. We know it’s a toll. It’s a burden, sacrificing the troops of countries, but it’s in our common interest, so we appreciate what Croatia is doing and we look forward to continuing as allies together, not just in Afghanistan, but elsewhere.

QUESTION: So if this administration continues for another term, we don’t have --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The American administration.

QUESTION: How you see the involvement in the Balkans, will be more open, stronger?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We remain committed. We will absolutely, I’m convinced, whatever administration is in place, and whoever the Secretary of State is, remain committed to this region in which we have invested so much and where we have so many friends and interests.

That’s what I said this morning. I reminded participants in this conference that the global agenda is incredibly daunting when you think of Afghanistan and Syria and Libya and Iran and the global financial crisis. So there’s no question there are plenty of distractions out there. But we don’t want people here to think that that means we’re looking elsewhere and are no longer interested. We are interested. That’s why I’m here.

It does mean that the leaders of the region will have to take on more burdens and responsibilities themselves if they want to avoid falling behind and keep the focus of their friends around the world and certainly in the United States.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.