Interview With Bojan Brkic of Radio Television of Serbia

William J. Burns
Deputy Secretary
Belgrade, Serbia
February 17, 2012

Question: Thank you for this opportunity to share your experiences from this trip with our viewers. Can you please tell me what was the purpose of your trip, who did you meet, and what did you talk about?

Deputy Secretary Burns: Thank you very much. I am delighted to be in Belgrade. I had a very fruitful meeting last night with the President and met earlier today with the Prime Minister and Defense Minister. As I said, it is a great opportunity for me to be in Serbia and to offer my belated congratulations on Serbia’s National Day. I come with a very straightforward message: President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the entire American administration strongly support the deepening of our relationship with Serbia, and we continue to strongly support the European aspirations of Serbia. Our bilateral relationship has grown considerably in recent years in a number of areas. On law enforcement cooperation, we work together effectively to counter common threats, whether from narcotics, from organized crime, or from terrorism. Our militaries work well together and we value the expansion of Serbia’s contributions in international peace keeping. We welcome people-to-people and educational exchanges and we hope very much to expand trade and investment opportunities in the future. The Minister of Economy, with whom I met earlier today along with the Prime Minister, had a quite successful trade and investment mission to the United States in December. We think Serbia, with its highly skilled and multilingual population, has a great deal to offer to American investors and recent steps such as the acquisition by Cooper Tires of a tire factory in Serbia are a reminder of what is possible. We look forward to expanding our bilateral relationship in all these areas.

We also strongly support candidacy status in the European Union for Serbia. We think that is a goal that is well within reach in the coming weeks and, while we do not have a vote in the European Union, we will do everything we can to encourage this outcome. We hope that Serbia will continue implementing its commitments in the coming weeks to help us to help Serbia make its candidacy status possible.

Question: But that candidacy status was blocked at the previous meeting of the European Council due to lack of progress on Kosovo. Do you think that this is actually the right way to block the candidacy, in order to force Serbia to do more on that issue?

Deputy Secretary Burns: I can only speak to the American position. We strongly support Serbia’s EU candidacy status and we believe that this is well within reach in the coming weeks. We believe that step is deeply in the interest, not only of Serbia, but also of Kosovo and the entire region, as well as the European Union itself. We hope very much that Serbia will continue to work hard – and we know these are not easy challenges –to implement its commitments and make a strong case to the European Union.

Question: Part of that working hard is also President Tadic’s proposed four-article plan. Did you discuss that, and what do you think about it?

Deputy Secretary Burns: We did not have a chance to talk in great detail about the four point plan. Nonetheless, it seems to us to reflect a strong commitment to dialogue as the pathway to make practical progress for citizens in this region, including in Serbia. We believe this is a very important, pragmatic approach. The focus now should be to take the near-term step to achieve candidacy status. We really do believe that step is going to open up many opportunities, not just between Serbia and the EU, but opportunities in the neighborhood and opportunities also with the United States.

Question: We’ve seen, practically, these past couple of days, there was a referendum in the north of Kosovo, which was not supported by either the international community, or the authorities in Belgrade. What happens if Belgrade is constructive and cooperating, but does not have the ear of Serbs in northern Kosovo? Will you take steps to ensure that Pristina does not lose patience? Will you, in any way, support forceful attempts of Pristina to institute its power in the north?

Deputy Secretary Burns: Use of force by any party is deeply counter-productive. The focus now needs to continue to be on the dialogue facilitated by the European Union. Considerable progress has been made and candidacy status remains well within reach for Serbia. I know this requires complicated choices and difficult steps, but we believe, with continued commitment from Serbia, that that step is entirely possible. And we also believe this is not a zero-sum game. It is very much in the interest of both Serbia and Kosovo to continue down the path of dialogue. The United States is going to be a committed friend and a partner as that process continues, working with people in Serbia and the people in Kosovo, to help create real, practical opportunities to improve their daily lives and to help promote a process of integration in the region – integration with Europe and integration with one another – which will offer the best pathway towards the kind of prosperous future that everyone in this region deserves.

Question: At the last session of the Security Council your representative, Rosemary DiCarlo, reiterated one sentence that we so often hear from American officials: that the United States will not support any step that jeopardizes the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo. Every time we hear that, I hear lots of questions from people in Serbia. Why is the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo a holy cow when Serbian integrity and sovereignty did not matter? Why is it that the ethnic minority in Serbia has the right to self-determination and the Serbian minority in Kosovo does not? How do you determine that?

Deputy Secretary Burns: This is a complicated issue. The United States position is well known. The situation and the circumstances which produced the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and nine years of UN supervision, ultimately leading to Kosovo’s independence, are unique and do not create a precedent for other kinds of situations in this region or around the world. What’s crucial now is to look ahead, to look at what is possible for Serbia, to look at what is possible in terms of Serbia’s European future, to look at what is possible for the entire neighborhood. If the leadership and citizens of Serbia are able to keep that focus, an enormous amount is possible and the United States is going to do everything we can to help Serbians achieve that kind of future.

Question: Looking into the future…the key for the future, as always, is the economy, and you spoke about the necessity for a strong economic relationship between our two countries, and that Serbia offers a lot. But serious disappointment came several weeks ago when the biggest U.S. investor and the biggest exporter in Serbia, U.S. Steel, pulled out. Is that an indication of future U.S.-Serbian economic relations?

Deputy Secretary Burns: No, it is not. U.S. Steel’s decision was a disappointment, but it reflected the realities in the global steel market, not the realities and potential of Serbia. I do not think that decision is going to inhibit in any way other American investors as they look at Serbia. Serbia has a great deal to offer and we are going to do everything we can to help advertize what Serbia has to offer to foreign investors, including to American investors. Americans also have economic concerns and it is very much in our interest to increase exports and to increase overseas investment because it helps grow our economy as well. The trip by the Minister of Economy in December was an important step in that direction, and we are going to continue to work with you to expand our economic ties.

Question: Your Excellency, thank you very much for this interview.

Deputy Secretary Burns: It was a pleasure. Very nice to meet you.