Background Briefing

Special Briefing
Office of the Spokesperson
Washington, DC
October 26, 2012

MODERATOR: All right. As you all know, the Secretary is getting ready to go out to the Balkans where she’ll meet up with Cathy Ashton, and they’ll do some diplomacy together. Because our briefer is going to meet us out there, we thought we would do the traditional plane backgrounder here today. We’ll talk a little bit afterwards about release times.

For your records, this is [Senior State Department Official], hereafter known as Senior State Department Official. Take it away, please.

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Thank you, [Moderator]. I’ll walk you through some of the key issues that we’ll deal with on the trip and the schedule, but maybe I can just start with a little bit of context. We have – often when we talk about our engagement with Europe, beyond how we work with Europeans globally, beyond some of the key bilateral engagements we obviously have, we’ve talked about the importance of completing so-called unfinished business in Europe. And that is to say continuing the process of helping to bring democracy and stability and prosperity to all parts of Europe.

And you see our focus on this; the Georgian election and what we’ve done to support democracy there, they – and elsewhere in the Caucasus. You see we’re paying close attention this weekend in Ukraine, the election, and we’ve been working hard to help advance those goals throughout the continent. And we’ve said that Europe will not be complete until all of the countries of Europe that want to are integrated into Euro-Atlantic institutions. And that theme certainly applies to the Balkans and it’s going to be a major focus of what the Secretary will be seeking to engage on this week, which is to continue the process of supporting and encouraging the advancement of democracy and stability and prosperity in these countries in the name of, in the interest of, helping to lead them and welcome them on the path towards these Euro-Atlantic institutions.

In that regard, I think it’s important to note that on some of the key stops, Secretary Clinton will be joined by High Representative for EU Foreign Policy Catherine Ashton because this is not just an American project, but a common U.S. and European project. And in many ways, the European Union is a key player. The incentive of European Union membership in the past has been a strong incentive for countries of the region to reform their economies, to advance their democracies, to make peace with their neighbors. We’ve strongly supported that process as it applied to Central Europe, Eastern Europe, and we strongly support it as it applies to the Balkans.

So High Representative Ashton will join Secretary Clinton in Bosnia and in Serbia and in Kosovo, where they will convey the joint message of underscoring for these countries that if they do the right thing on all of these questions – relations with their neighbors, reforming market economies, rule of law and democracy and respect for human rights at home – that they can continue on this path. And it’s in our common interest to see this. I don’t need to remind you all that the United States invested an awful lot in these countries – Bosnia in particular, but also Kosovo over the past 15 years – awful lot of money and troops and political capital and time. And we want to see that investment pay off. We haven’t lost sight of it, and there again, I think it’s worth stressing Secretary Clinton, notwithstanding everything else on her agenda, has a personal interest in this region that she has followed closely over the years, was obviously engaged in during her husband’s presidency and continues to work it, follow it closely, remain very much engaged. So in that context, the Secretary will travel, as I think you have pretty much the schedule, to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Albania.

So just to briefly walk through a couple of the stops and then we can turn to some issues that might be on your mind, in Sarajevo and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the Secretary and High Representative Ashton will underline the urgent need for party leaders to serve the interests of the people of that country and accomplish necessary reforms. And she will also stress the immutability of the international community’s commitment to the Dayton Peace Accords. As you know, from time to time, different leaders or actors in Bosnia and Herzegovina question or challenge the Dayton Peace Accords and the institutions of Bosnia, and the Secretary will make absolutely clear that those institutions and arrangements are here to stay. Party leaders can obviously work out, within that framework, the relationships that they want, but there should be no questioning of the basic fundamentals of the Dayton Peace Accords.

We have not been shy about saying and being clear that we’re disappointed that the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have not put the interests of the country first oftentimes and instead have promoted narrow ethnic or party or personal agendas. And I think the message from Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton will be that this country is welcome in Euro-Atlantic institutions. We’d like to see it become a member of the European Union and NATO, but they really need to proceed with the necessary reforms, resolving some longstanding issues of ownership of state property and defense property, working together as a functioning government, dealing with a budget, and meeting some of the other conditions of European Union membership.

In Sarajevo, the Secretary and High Representative Ashton will meet with the three members of the Bosnian presidency, the collective heads of state. And they’ll also meet with High Representative ValentinInzko, who heads the Office of the High Representative, which is empowered to protect the Dayton Accords, and the European Union Special Representative Peter Sorensen, the most senior EU official in Bosnia, as well as heads of other international institutions. And I stress that because I think that meeting will be an opportunity to – first of all, for the Secretary and High Representative Ashton to hear from those on the ground who are working on behalf of the international community, but also to show that we are united – the United States and the European Union are united in this common message for the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Then the Secretary will go on the next day to Belgrade and Pristina, where in each country respectively she’ll discuss a number of bilateral issues. But I think where the two of them together are concerned, the Secretary and High Representative Ashton will reiterate common U.S.-EU resolve for Serbia and Kosovo to build on previous agreements and advance their dialogue, and to encourage the concrete steps that will allow them both to respectively move towards a European Union membership.

Again, a little bit of context here: For the past 18 months or so, Serbia and Kosovo have been engaged in an EU-facilitated dialogue. That is to say their representatives have actually been sitting down in the same room together, talking directly, which is the first time that they had done that. The dialogue was led and facilitated by the European Union. The United States was very much involved. We were present at every meeting and been supportive of the process because we agree with our European allies that Serbia and Kosovo need to normalize their relations before they can move down the path towards European integration. European leaders have been clear that a country can’t join the European Union when its border is not recognized, when it’s open, when there are issues of trafficking and corruption and regional tension.

So we’ve strongly supported this European Union-led effort over the past 18 months, and it accomplished some practical results. The two sides reached agreements on freedom of movement, on common recognition of diplomas, on land records, on something called Integrated Border Management that would allow for one customs post to regulate trade between the two, and on Kosovo’s participation in regional fora, which was a major step for Kosovo because it would allow Kosovo to show up at meetings and speak for itself and represent itself.

There were glitches on the implementation of those last two agreements, on Integrated Border Management and regional participation, something we’ve pushed the two sides to agree on. And we’ve been pleased that the new Serbian Government – you’ll recall there were elections, parliamentary and presidential elections in Serbia last spring – and the new Serbian Government has made clear that, one, it fully intends to continue down the path towards European Union membership, and two, that it will implement all previous agreements that were agreed within the dialogue. They’re not walking away from that process.

And the two areas where I said there were glitches – integrated border management and regional participation – they moved forward on. They were stuck, but this new Serbian Government signed the IBM agreement. It still needs to be implemented, but they took it a step forward by signing it and submitting it. And on regional participation, they helped to get beyond a dispute about how Kosovo’s representation would be manifested in different regional meetings. So we were encouraged by that.

And then to bring you up to the current situation in the context of the Secretary’s trip, just last week, on October 19th, the prime ministers of Serbia and Kosovo – Mr. Thaci in Kosovo and Dacic in Serbia – met together with High Representative Ashton in Brussels, the first time the leaders, the prime ministers of the two countries, have gotten together, in a new phase of this dialogue.

So that’s an important step forward. Obviously, very – there’s much work that remains to be done and very significant differences remain, so I don’t want to say – I don’t want to give a different impression, but we find it quite positive that the leaders are willing to sit down for the first time in the same room and talk to each other. They agreed to further sessions of the dialogue to continue to advance this agenda. And in that sense, I think it’s quite timely that Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton will show up after this first meeting of the prime ministers but before the next one where the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo and the people of Serbia and Kosovo can hear a joint message from the United States and the European Union that they need to resolve their differences, they need to normalize their relations so that both of them can move forward down the path to Euro-Atlantic institutions, which would be a major step towards the broader strategic goal I mentioned at the beginning of bringing this whole region into stability, prosperity, democracy and Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Finally, the Secretary will – and just schedule-wise so that you know, in Belgrade, Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton will meet with President Nikolic and Prime Minister Dacic, and in Pristina they will meet with President Jahjaga, Prime Minister Thaci and members of the local Serb community, which is another important aspect of this story maybe we can get into if you have any questions.

But obviously, we’ve underscored the importance of Kosovo being a multiethnic democracy where Serb citizens have full rights, and Kosovo has made major strides in that direction with Serb-majority municipalities electing their own leaderships, their own mayors. On her previous trip to Kosovo, Secretary Clinton met with some of those mayors. This time she’ll meet with some ethnic Serb returnees, because it’s something we’ve stressed all along, together with our European partners, that there needs to be a place in all of these countries for minorities to have their full rights.

The Secretary will then move on to Albania, and in Tirana she’ll highlight our solidarity with this NATO ally, Albania, and help mark the hundredth anniversary of Albania’s independence while calling for greater political cooperation and rule of law. So she will in Tirana meet with President Nishani, Prime Minister Berisha and senior opposition leader Edi Rama. And while there, she’ll also address the Albanian parliament.

And then finally, last stop will be another relatively new NATO ally, Croatia. I think that’s – Croatia is not just a relatively new and important NATO ally, but it is scheduled to join the European Union next year, which I think is an important thing worth stressing. It is something the United States has long supported, but it’s also, I think, a message to the region that, yes, it’s difficult; yes, reforms are hard; yes, the road is long to European Union membership; but if you do the right things and you do what has been agreed, you actually do cross the finish line. And Croatia crossed that finish line for NATO, and it’s on the threshold of doing so for the European Union, which would really be a signal to these other countries that we mean what we say.

Obviously this is for the European Union, not us, when it comes to just the EU, but it means it’s not just leading you on. If you do the things that you’re committed to do and the European Union sets as a standard, then you actually do join. So the United States very much looks forward to welcoming Croatia’s accession to the European Union next year, and that will be something the Secretary will no doubt talk about when she meets with the President and the Prime Minister of Croatia.

MODERATOR: Just – her meetings in Croatia?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: She’ll have meetings with the President – separate meetings with the President and the Prime Minister of Croatia, and then she’ll do a separate event on economic statecraft, highlighting the importance of transparency, economic reforms, American investments, and trade.

MODERATOR: Great. Let’s go to questions.


QUESTION: On the Serbia side of things, is this going to be the first time that she’s met with Nikolic? And does – maybe start there. And then also there was some concern after the elections that he represented a sort of political force in Serbia that wasn’t perhaps as keen on reconciliation and might take a harder line. Is this – are you – is this an effort to push them along on the reconciliation path that they are charging down themselves?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, two things. First, she had a brief meeting very soon after President Nikolic’s inauguration. I think it was in Brazil, right on the margins of an international conference. So she was able to congratulate him and have an initial discussion of the way forward then. And we’ve had subsequent – numerous subsequent interactions with President Nikolic. I was in Belgrade and saw him there. In New York, Deputy Secretary Burns met with him. So we’ve been in very close touch with the new Serbian Government and the Serbian Prime Minister Dacic as well.

As for their alignment, that’s why I felt it was worth stressing that they have made clear that their intention is to continue down this path towards relations with the European Union. And they’ve certainly made clear with us that they want strong and improving relations with the United States. So yes, there’s no question that President Nikolic is widely seen as a Serb nationalist defending Serbian interests in a not surprising way. But we are encouraged that he’s committed to implementing the areas of the dialogue with Kosovo that had been agreed previously. We’re encouraged that he’s committed to continuing Serbia’s integration relationship with Europe and that he wants to develop the relationship with the United States. So in that sense, I think the Secretary is looking forward to that engagement.

QUESTION: It’s been a long while since I’ve been in Kosovo, but the – can you address, like, some of the particular problem areas in there, like Mitrovica, what’s the situation now on the ground, how it’s changed, and what the Serbian influence or role is there?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Sure. I mean, I can address the very positive things that have happened but also the remaining challenges. I would start with the former because it’s been a while since you’ve been there, you would be interested – I think you’ll be surprised, pleasantly surprised, at the degree of progress over the past several years. Now, don’t forget it’s been only four years since Kosovo found its independence, and in that time it has been recognized by nearly 90 countries, including not just the United States but the vast majority of members of the European Union, and has really made great strides towards becoming a stable democratic country.

And part of the way it has done that is by doing the right thing on giving a voice to all of its citizens. And you’ll see that it has formed in those areas where there are majority ethnic Serbs municipalities where they’ve been able to have their own elections and elected Serb mayors. I think I mentioned the Secretary met with them when she was last there, which is really something. We’ve stressed from the very start that for Kosovo to succeed it would need to reach out to its Serb citizens, even after the war it would need to protect Serb religious and cultural sites, and it is committed to that. And I think we’ll hear publicly from Prime Minister Thaci his commitment to outreach, to decentralization so that all of the communities can represent themselves and feel comfortable in a multiethnic Kosovo.

So I think that’s been very impressive progress for a short time that this country has made. And the United States strongly supports Kosovo as an independent country, sovereignty and territorial integrity, and we’ve worked hard to support it.

There’s no doubt – you mention Mitrovica. There remains an important challenge in the north of the country where the majority, but certainly not all – and it’s worth stressing no one should think that all of the ethnic Serbs live in the north where there’s an ethnic Serb majority and a Serbian presence – Serbian, that is to say, from the country Serbia, Belgrade – that remains an obstacle to peaceful relations between the two countries and an obstacle to Serbia’s path towards the European Union.

Again, this is for Europeans to make clear, but they have said that Serbia can’t join the European Union so long as it keeps a security presence and what are often referred to as parallel institutions in Kosovo. And that’s certainly the view of the United States. We recognize all of Kosovo and its territorial integrity. We certainly support decentralization. We support mechanisms so that all of the citizens can feel comfortable in Kosovo. But we oppose the presence of these parallel institutions run out of Belgrade, financed by Belgrade, and which often raise security challenges that require us and our NATO allies to keep forces in Kosovo for security. And our long-term goal, obviously, is a normalization of that relationship so that’s not necessary. So that remains the major challenge for Kosovo as a country and for relations between Serbia and Kosovo.

QUESTION: Could you just elaborate just a little bit more on what the latest information is? What is the security presence of the parallel institutions, provide some specifics?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: Well, the majority of hospitals and schools and even courts to a degree we believe have continued to be run and financed by Serbia. And that is obviously inconsistent with the notion of Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. And they’re not only – it’s not only a problem that they’re financed and run out of Serbia, but – and this is one reason I can’t give you a crystal clear answer – it’s done in a nontransparent way. So nobody really knows how much money is being spent on this. We know it’s very costly to Serbia to maintain security forces and these institutions. But there’s even – so there’s a great lack of transparency. So an initial stage in this dialogue we hope can consist of simple transparency about what is going on in the north on the road towards actually resolving the problem, but it’s clear that there is an active Serbian presence.

QUESTION: And on the security side?

SENIOR STATE DEPARTMENT OFFICIAL: And on the security side, I don’t have numbers. But once again, we don’t have any doubt that Serbian security forces continue to reside in and cross back and forth into northern Kosovo, which is, again, something that needs to be clarified. There have been over the years repeated instances of roadblocks being put up, interfering with freedom of movement for KFOR, the NATO force that’s there, for EULEX, the European Rule of Law Mission, and for Kosovo officials. And that, again, is not a durable situation. So that’s clearly going to be another issue that the Secretary will want to address when she’s in Serbia.

MODERATOR: Anybody else? No? All right, we will see you all on the plane.

PRN: 2012/T73-01