Council on Foreign Relations, New York City, New York
Monday, April 16, 2007
CHARLES KUPCHAN: Good evening. Welcome to the Council on Foreign Relations. My name is Charles Kupchan, I am a senior fellow here at the council, and it's my pleasure to welcome all of you to this evening's event as well as to welcome our guest, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns. Before we start, let me remind everyone to turn off cell phones and other electronic equipment. And let me also state that this meeting, unlike many council meetings, is on the record.
The topic of our meeting today is Kosovo and the future status of Kosovo, and Nick Burns is here to give us a perspective from the U.S. government on this issue. I have had the pleasure of working with Nick about 10 or even more years ago on the NSC and since that time have watched his meteoric rise to the ranks of the Diplomatic Corps from the spokesperson at the State Department, where he was a avid defender of U.S. foreign policy before the firing squad of the press to the Ambassador to Greece to the Ambassador to NATO, and now undersecretary of State for Political Affairs. And Nick, in that position, is as engaged and influential on an amazing range of issues, and so I think we're quite privileged to have his perspective on this issue tonight.
One final introductory comment, and this is the main reason that I have unlimited amount of respect for Nick -- he is a die-hard fan of the Red Sox, which is a good sign of character, a good sign of judgment. Nick is going to give us some opening remarks. I will then engage him in a few rounds of question-and-answer, and then we will turn it to the audience for your participation.
Nick, thanks for coming to the council.
R. NICHOLAS BURNS: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. A pleasure to be with you. Thank you, Charlie, for that very kind introduction. The Red Sox are in first place, as we speak, so the season's off to a good start.
It's a pleasure to see so many friends in the audience, including many people with whom I served in the Clinton administration as well as the Bush administration. And I want to start there. This is a great bipartisan success story, American policy in the Balkans and Southeast Europe over the last 15 years, and it did start with President Clinton. It started with President Clinton's correct decision to intervene in Bosnia in November of -- October/November of 1995 to pave the way for that extraordinarily successful 10-year peacekeeping period, and then his very courageous decision against a lot of opposition here at home and in New York at the Security Council to intervene in March, April, May, June of 1999 to save over 1 million people who would have been driven from their homes and their country by the Serb army had it not been for the Untied States and NATO.
I begin there because I think that as we look at the question of Kosovo, and we're on the verge of a major development -- the looming independence of Kosovo as a new state in the international system -- it's important to remember here at home, in the United States, this is a bipartisan success. I don't know of any difference between our two major political parties in the Congress on this issue. We've had three American presidents -- President George H.W. Bush, President Bill Clinton, President George W. Bush -- who have all said the same thing -- that as communism ended in Eastern Europe in the late '80s and early '90s, as the Berlin Wall fell, as the Soviet Union disintegrated, the major strategic ambition of the United States over three presidents in Europe has been to see Europe whole, free and at peace, in the words of President Bush 41 -- whole, free and at peace. And in fact, I think you could make a bigger statement, and that is that the most important foreign policy objective -- single objective of our country for the last 100 years has been to see Europe whole, free and at peace.
Think about that. Since April 2nd, 1917, when Woodrow Wilson made his famous speech in the Congress and said that we should put 1 million American soldiers into the western front, and that turned the tide of the war in favor of Britain and France and won that victory. Through the inter-war period through the Second World War through the Cold War, and then through the wars of the Yugoslav Secession, four of them -- it's been the single overriding objective of the United States that Europe should be democratic and it should be peaceful and it should be united. That's been the single overriding foreign policy objective of our lifetime and of our predecessors -- one or two generations before his lifetime. And we're on the verge -- we are now on the verge of realizing that objective. That's a fairly extraordinary accomplishment for our country. It's a bipartisan success.
The one group of people that have not enjoyed the success of freedom and of liberty and of peace and have been subjected instead to division and continued warfare have been the people of Southeast Europe. The people of Bosnia-Herzigova, despite the very dramatic events of date in November '95 and the years since then -- and Roberts Owen played a huge role in that along with his friend Dick Holbrooke -- despite that great success, I think we all understand that the people of Bosnia-Herzigova need to live in a more modern democratic state with modern democratic institutions. And I've had occasion to talk to Bob about that and I think we both agree in it.
The people of Albania and Croatia and Macedonia live in countries that still don't know where their future will be with NATO and the European Union. It's the view of the United States that they should be, and we have a NATO summit in Bucharest about a year from now where I hope the United States will be able to support an expanded NATO. Again, countries still need to meet the requirements of NATO and we need to see that performance. But those three countries have a right to think of their future as members of NATO and members of the European Union. The people of Serbia, that great state with which we have had very good and warm relations throughout almost all of our history with the exception of the last decade, -- the last 10to 15 years -- there's no question that Serbia, the most important and most powerful state of Southeast Europe, deserves a future in NATO and in the European Union. That's the position of our government.
But the people of Kosovo are the one people in this region who, for a decade, have not known what their future will be or what state they would live in, or what the borders of that state would be. And they were nearly annihilated by the Serb army and by Milosivic in 1998, and again in 1999. We went in correctly, as I have said, and now eight years later -- after eight years of tutelage by the United Nations and supervision by the United Nations and security provided by NATO, it's very clear to the United States that the future of Kosovo should be one of independence. And we will lead the way as authors of a resolution that would allow that happen. We'll lead the way for that to happen in, we hope, the next four to five to six weeks. So we meet at an important time, and I just wanted to give you a sense of how we're thinking and of how the diplomacy's going to proceed of the stakes for the United States and for our allies, and then look forward to a good conversation.
We've known this day was going to come. We've known that the people of Kosovo couldn't live under UNMIC -- the United Nations' authority forever. And that's why the Secretary-General Kofi Annan appointed Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, to lead negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovar Albanian leadership, as well as the Kosovar Serbs. Over the last 18 months, he did that. He tried to bring them together many times. He succeeded a few times. Most of the time, the Serb government refused to appear at these negotiations. And he submitted a plan a few weeks back to Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that calls for supervised independence -- a period of supervised independence. That would mean that Kosovo would become an independent state, a member of the United Nations, a country that could have relations with the World Bank and the IMF, a country that would be in control of its borders, but would continue under some undetermined period of time -- a short period of time -- to have NATO provide the border security for the country, to have the European Union lead a continued international effort to provide for international support, but that after a brief period of time, Kosovo would become fully and unalterably independent.
That proposal has been met by President Ahtisaari -- it has been met by most of us in the Untied Nations system with a great deal of relief that it was eight years in coming. The United States supports in. The 25 members of the European Union support this plan. And as we look at the Security Council now, the council that has to vote to undo Resolution 1244 from June 1999, and prepare the way for the Kosovars to declare their independence and then for the rest of us to recognize them in that sequence.
It's clear to us that Ahtisaari has arrived at the right solution, because having gone through what the people of Kosovo went through in the spring of 1999 and having lived for so long wondering what their future would be, there's no question that independence is the only answer.
Serbia effectively gave Kosovo up during that war, by its policies, by its brutal treatment of the people of Kosovo, and by its lack of attention and regard over the last eight years, there's only one option, and that is independence. Any other option would not deal with reality.
There's no way that the 92 or (9)3 percent of the people of Kosovo who are Kosovar Albanians would accept even an autonomous relationship within a greater Serb state. There is every reason to think that that solution, put forward by Russia, put forward by the Serb government itself, would lead to -- would lead to more violence, rather than less. And we have become convinced, having looked at this in a very careful way, that the recipe that would give us the prospects for the least amount of violence and for the greatest amount of stability would be the quickest route towards independence. Because at this point, after eight years, any delay in the final status of the people of Kosovo would likely engender the complete opposition of the great and vast majority of people who live in that province.
So our view is that, on this exceptional basis, given the extraordinary nature of how Kosovo and the people of Kosovo came to the present situation, the treatment by Milosevic, as Yugoslavia, of Kosovo as Yugoslavia began to break up, the brutal nature of his rule in Kosovo, the unprecedented war crimes -- the worst, in our view, since the Nazis in Europe; and the fact that the United Nations Security Council in June of 1999 effectively said, this province -- effectively said -- this province is being taken away from the direct control of Serbia. It's going to be put into a state of limbo. The United Nations will provide for its supervision. And at some point -- and we've come to that point this spring -- at some point, the people of Kosovo will have to determine, along with the international community, their final status. That point has come.
I believe you'll see, over the next month, a very rapid movement towards a resolution that will set up -- not provide for, on a legal basis -- but set up a process that would lead to the independence of Kosovo. The Security Council ambassadors have decided this is such an important issue, they're all going to take a trip next week to Brussels to meet with NATO and the EU, the two institutions that have done so much to support the Kosovo -- Kosovar population over the last eight years; then on to Belgrade, to meet with President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica, and then finally to Pristina to meet with President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Ceku and the assembly and the leaders, both Albanian and Serb, of Kosovo itself.
Following that trip, I think it would be a short period of time before the United States would introduce, with a variety of co-sponsors, a resolution that would in effect undo the resolution of June '99, and that would prepare for a future system of international support for Kosovo. The EU has volunteered to lead a civilian mission in Kosovo; NATO has agreed that our troops would stay, and that would mean that United States troops would continue to serve in Kosovo for the life of that mission, until they're no longer needed. And then at some point after a period, I think, of weeks of debate, the United States will put this to a vote. I think we are close to the point of having enough votes already to pass this resolution today, should we choose to bring it to a vote today, which of course we will not. But that gives you a sense of understanding of the wide support internationally for this decision.
And we hope very much that Serbia will understand that what we want with Serbia is a positive future. And the ambassador of Serbia has been good enough to come tonight, and is a man I very much respect. He's a friend. And he knows that we're going through, without any question, the most difficult period in U.S.-Serb relations in a long, long time, since the war in Kosovo eight years ago. But we are convinced, in the State Department, in our government, that we'll get through this; that following this very painful separation of Kosovo from Serbia, the United States will signal very clearly our belief that we should have a good future with the Serb people; that we would like to see Serbia pointed towards a future relationship with NATO. In fact, our government took the lead in bringing Serbia into Partnership for Peace last November; that we would encourage the European Union to develop the closest possible ties with Serbia. And then, I would think that, given the fact that we're the second leading investor right now, our private sector in Serbia, you would see a great interest in the part of the America private sector and the NGO community to take its place in Belgrade and in the other parts of your great country.
We want to signal that now, because we don't want this very painful and difficult decision about the independence of Kosovo to, in effect, scuttle the possibility of good relations between our two countries. We want to ensure that future. And I think I can say, as a career foreign service officer, someone who's non-partisan, that I hear the same message from our leadership -- President Bush, Secretary Rice -- but also the Democratic leadership in our Congress. And then, as we all recognize the importance of Serbia, most of us would liken it to the keystone country in Southeast Europe -- the country that's going to be historically, in the future, the anchor of economic and political stability.
So this rather abrupt separation between Kosovo and Serbia need not lead to a downturn that would be permanent in relations between Serbia and the United States. And I did want to assure the ambassador this evening of our high regard for him and for his government leaders and for that sense of how we should work together.
I would say this: while the people of Kosovo, the overwhelming percentage of whom are Kosovar Albanian, can rejoice in the fact that they will soon be independent, they have some responsibilities. Kosovar Serbs have lived in Kosovo for well over 1,000 years. Kosovo is a place of enormous historical importance to the Serb people and to those Serbs who are Orthodox. All of us -- many of us have visited the beautiful monasteries there, the historic sites, and we continue to tell the Kosovar Albanian leadership, it is your responsibility not just to be tolerant of all the minorities in your country, including most especially the Kosovar Serb community, but to embrace them and to let them know that they have an absolute right not just to live there but to be fully part of the government and of the society of Kosovo for generations to come. That is a very important responsibility of the Kosovar Albanian leadership. We just had that leadership up at the Rockefeller estate, north of New York City, last weekend. And Richard Holbrooke and I were -- met them together, along with Ambassador Frank Wisner, our emissary to the Kosovo talks, had dinner with them Thursday night and impressed upon President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Ceku and the 20 other leaders who were there that while we are with them in supporting their independence, it is on the condition, of course, that they will accept and embrace the Kosovo Serb community. And that's very important for us.
In my many trips to Kosovo, I have always made it a point to go and visit members of the Kosovar Serb community. In my last two trips, I've gone to the town of Obilic, a town that is exceedingly important in Serb history, and I visited with one family on both occasions. These are older people who came to Kosovo in the early 1960s, built their own home there, raised their kids there. That's home for them and they now live in a town that is, by an overwhelming majority, Kosovar Albanian. And they sometimes feel threatened in that town, and they sometimes feel that they're not welcome when they go to the market or when they do their business in town. And I think the test for the Kosovar Albanian leadership will be for that older couple to feel that they can stay, that they can live out their years there and that their kids and their grandchildren can live there as well. That's a test that the Albanian leadership has to meet.
And there's also no question that as we go through this very difficult period, we are asking the Kosovar Albanian leadership to make sure that there is peace in the streets of Kosovo, that there are no provocations or demonstrations against the Serbs, and there are no attacks against Serb churches, Serb homes or Serb civilians.
I was an ambassador to NATO, the American ambassador to NATO in March of 2004 when, on two successive nights -- March 17th and 18th of 2004 -- mobs went into the streets of Pristina and other towns, attacked Serbs, killed them, burned Serb churches and burned Serb homes. And it was one of NATO's worst moments because about half of our troops followed the commands of our German commander, went into the streets and put down those demonstrations. About half stayed in their barracks and waited for orders from their capitals. And it was a shameful moment in NATO's history that we did not rise to that occasion to protect the Serb civilians.
General Jim Jones, who's now a private citizen but was our (sacier ?) at the time, vowed -- and we all as Ambassadors vowed -- that would never happen again. And I am now 100 percent sure that if there are any provocations in Kosovo, NATO will put those demonstrations -- or those violent, if there are violent, violent demonstrations down and will protect the minority population of Kosovo.
I think this is something that we can't talk about enough, because it's one thing to support independence, but it's never unqualified. We have to ask, that if we're to entrust an independent state in the hands of very good people -- this group of the Unity Team, this group of Kosovar Albanian leaders, that they must rise to the task of democratic values, of protection of minority rights, of the protection of the rule of law. And this is a point that we made -- Dick Holbrooke and Frank Wisner and I together on Thursday evening; that I understand President Clinton made when President Clinton visited with them Friday morning. And I just had a chance to talk to Secretary of State, former Secretary Madeleine Albright, I know it's a point that she made to them on Saturday when she met with them.
So while we were fully behind this leadership -- the Kosovar Albanian leadership, we trust them; we have great respect for them. We also want to make sure that we are party to an agreement that meet the highest standards of democratic pluralism and tolerance. And I thought, with the Serb ambassador here tonight, it was only fair that I would address this issue at some length to assure him and his government, as well as the Kosovar Serb population, that we have this idea and this issue firmly in mind as we go ahead.
I would just like to conclude, Charlie, by saying that this is not going to be an easy time for the people of the region. It's not going to be an easy time for the permanent members of the Security Council. There's no secret that the Russian government is not exactly thrilled about the proposition that the United States and Britain and France would put together, and put forward a resolution for -- that would support this process that would lead to independence. But there's no question in our mind that there's no other alternative; any other alternative risks the greatest possibility of violence. This option is the surest way towards peace and the maintenance of stability and of justice -- of doing the right thing as an international community for the people of Kosovo itself.
And I would say that it's been a great effort for Europe and the United States, and something we can be very proud of. We did go into Bosnia and stop a war, and have kept the peace successfully with the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina. We did go into Kosovo and stop that war, and have kept the peace. And we were surely right -- President Clinton was surely right to make those decisions, and President Bush has surely been right to maintain the American military presence in the Balkans to ensure this peace.
The United States and Europe have borne the great share of the international responsibility in putting our soldiers there, in keeping them there, in our economic support for Kosovo and Bosnia, as well as our political support. So as countries begin to consider whether they will vote for or abstain -- or some countries have even threatened to veto, I think those of us in Europe and the United States are convinced that we are doing the right thing and that the international community should judge us on the commitment that we have made and are willing to continue to make.
And I sometimes say to my colleagues from countries that sometimes talk about vetoes, think about what that means if a country should veto this resolution that will lead to the independence of Kosovo. It means that your whole -- you're asking Europe and the United States and our soldiers on the ground to take all the responsibility for the morning after in what would undoubtedly be, if this scenario unfolds, a very, very difficult situation indeed on the ground.
And I think that this message from Europe and the United States, which is very much a unified message, is -- we have been there, we have made the commitment, we're willing to take the responsibility. I think that message has begun to resonate with some of the nonpermanent members on the council and the permanent members who have not made that kind of commitment in the last 10 years, and are unlikely to make it in the 10 years to come -- as we shall be the surest supporters of Kosovo's democracy and independent state in the years ahead. That's an important message for those countries that are wavering or considering what their vote should be in the month of May when this comes to a vote in the Security Council.
So Charlie, I wanted to give you, and this audience, a sense of why the United States has taken this position -- but also what the diplomacy, the difficult diplomacy ahead entails. And I'm happy to stop here to be subjected to your questions and then to have a good discussion with this audience. Thank you very much.
KUPCHAN: Thank you very much, Nick, for giving us a walk through U.S. policy and where we are heading in the next few weeks.
Let me start off by asking a question that is essentially in the spirit of supporting the position that you laid out -- because I do. But I think that one of the main criticisms that you will get and one that you need to address as the independence of Kosovo moves forward, is how to make sure that this is seen as a "one of" -- because the -- an obvious criticism is that, even if Kosovo deserves independence and should get independence, it's not sending a particularly good signal because it is condoning, on some level, partition along ethnic lines. And having been recently in Sukumi and Abkhazia, I know that they are watching very closely what's taking place because they too would like to go the way of Kosovo. And you hear the same sorts of arguments trotted out about Republic of Srpska, perhaps the Albanians in Western Macedonia -- you know the arguments. So I wanted to give you an opportunity to kind of get ahead of the curve and rebut those who are saying, isn't this opening a Pandora's Box that could get us into hot water.
BURNS: That is -- I think, Charlie, you've hit the nail on the head. That is the argument of those who would try to derail this process, but it's not argument that's going to stand up. I was talking to the Foreign Minister of Congo-Brazzaville on the phone, asking him for his support for this resolution -- which he's assured me that his government will give, and he said to me, "You know, the one reservation that we needed to be convinced about was the fact that, in Africa, a lot of our borders -- well, all of our borders," he said, "were drawn by people who weren't African, but by colonial powers." "And the last thing we would want would be to see the United Nations open up that Pandora's Box." But he said that he'd been convinced by our arguments that this is not a precedent. That, in fact, there are no lessons here for what -- for Abkhazia or for South Ossetia, you know, we see Georgia as an integral, stable nation state which deserves our full support.
There are certainly no lessons here for the other peoples of Southeast Europe. We recognize all those states in their current borders and we will not agree to any border changes, or any deal involving partition, as part of the endgame at the Security Council to achieve a Kosovo resolution. But think about the rather unique aspect of what happened to the people of Kosovo over the last 15 years. They were treated differently by Milosevic than the Croats, or the Slovens, or the Macedonians, or the other constituent parts of the former Yugoslavia. He held on to them in a way -- longer, and in a way that was much more vicious and autocratic than in any other case. He then launched the most brutal military assault on those people imaginable that was shocking even to a lot of us who've seen many wars and saw this violent break-up of the former Yugoslavia.
We then passed -- the Security Council, on June 9th of 1999 00 a resolution which made it very clear that because of the war crimes committed by Milosevic and the Serb army -- Kosovo was, in effect, being put under the trusteeship of the United Nations; Kosovo was going to be run by the United Nations; and Kosovo's status was very much going to be open to an international agreement.
There is no other example like this -- in Eastern Europe or in any other part of the former Soviet Union, including Central Asia or the Caucasus -- there is no precedent. And what's very interesting is, I think that there are many in Russia -- I'm not speaking of the Russian government, but I have read many commentaries by Russian journalists and thinkers -- the Russian people, many of them, don't want this to be a precedent either, because they want to make sure their country is able to stay together. And we obviously support that, we don't want to see a change of borders anywhere in Europe. So I think that this is a false argument that's been put forward. It's not convincing the countries of the security council, as we talk to them, and it's not going to prevent the inevitable result here, which is a period of supervised independence.
KUPCHAN: Let me raise one other issue before we open it up.
The position of the U.S. and international community, from the beginning of Ahtisaari's mission, has been that partition is off the table. And you mentioned in your last answer that partition is off the table. And I'd want you to share with us why that's the case -- why you are as firm as you are on that issue from two different perspectives.
One is, if Belgrade were willing to sign-off on this deal, if it got Northern Kosovo -- and for those of you unfamiliar with the demographic map, Northern Kosovo is mostly Serb -- if you could get a deal, and they say, "We can live with this," doesn't that make this much easier for everyone?
And secondly, Northern Kosovo really isn't part of Kosovo, de facto -- I mean it is de jour, but if you look at the education system, the health care system, the security police -- even though they're not supposed to be there, they are there from Belgrade. It's still, in some ways, attached to Serbia. And so you're assuming that you have an independent Kosovo, and Northern Kosovo is part of it -- you're going to have a chunk of it that is, in some ways, is belonging to another state -- which leads me to believe, not that partition is good, but that it shouldn't necessarily be off the table from the get-go.
BURNS: I guess I'd answer your very provocative but logical question -- I know why you're asking it -- by saying we don't believe we are the modern-day incarnation of Churchill and Lawrence at the Mena House Hotel in Cairo in 1921. The days are over when other people sit outside a region and draw or redraw their border, as the British and French colonials did following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, so infamously.
And talk about Pandora's Box, which is what some people say is associated with this issue of precedence; talk about Pandora's Box. If you agreed hypothetically to a partition of one part of Kosovo, where would it stop? Where would it stop? If you make a special deal for Mitrovica, how about the people of south Serbia? What would be the impact on Macedonia, a multiethnic state, where all the ethnic groups present in Kosovo are present in Macedonia?
What would be the impact on Albania? What would be the impact on our NATO ally, Greece, which has had to fight war after war for the last 100 years to defend their borders against constant attack by all of its neighbors? I lived in the Balkans, in Greece, for four years. I was with Ken and Bob and others in '95 and '96 as we served President Clinton and lived through Bosnia and then Kosovo.
There would be no end to border changes and to historical claims and to revisionist claims and to irredentist claims if you open up this Pandora's Box. I think there is absolute agreement among the European countries and the United States that we will not consider any border changes, any proposal for partition, as part of a settlement on Kosovo.
The settlement that we're looking for are absolute promises by the Kosovar Albanian leadership about how they'll treat people inside that country that will become independent, and a commitment, we hope, from Serbia that it is responsible.
As a successor state of Milosevic's state, it therefore has to live with and account for some of the remaining issues that emanate from Milosevic's time. I'm thinking, of course, of Mladic and Karadzic, and would hope when the Serb government is constituted that they will get to the business of finding Mladic, which should be fairly easy to do, and arresting him and sending him to The Hague, and then finding Karadzic.
The problems in the Balkans need to be put behind the people, and the governments have a responsibility to do that. And we have a responsibility to create the environment and to help them both, Serbia and the people of Kosovo, get beyond the history of the last 10 years and get on to the future, which is of economic integration with Europe and working with NATO to provide for collective security and to then have this group of countries in the Balkans join the countries of West and Central Europe in a wholly undivided, peaceful and democratic Europe, which will be one of the great achievements in modern history. And we Americans will have played a central role for 100 years in bringing that about. That's a big vision, but it's within our grasp in the next decade or so.
KUPCHAN: Let's open it up to the floor. And I ask you to wait for a microphone, state your name, affiliation and a brief question. Why don't we start right there? Who is that? Looks familiar. Avis? Yes.
BURNS: She does look familiar.
QUESTIONER: Avis Bohlen, Georgetown University; also, Nick, I'm sure you will remember, a member of an international commission on the Balkans --
QUESTIONER: -- whose report came to exactly the same conclusion that independence is the only solution for Kosovo.
I want to follow up on the question that Charlie asked. There's no doubt that partition is a bad idea. Among other reasons, it would place the majority of Serbs in Kosovo at risk because they live outside these three provinces north of the Ibar River.
But can we stop it from happening de facto? What's to prevent the Serbs from just staying there and saying, "We're not going to be part of Kosovo"? Are we really going to put NATO troops between the Mitrovica area, the northern part, and Serbia proper? Isn't this going to be the solution that the Russians will default to?
I mean, it's a bad idea, but how are we going to stop it from happening?
BURNS: Avis, thank you very much. I didn't happen to see you sitting there. I would have included you in the pantheon of all those Clinton administration people who did so much for the Balkans.
When I was trained to be a State Department spokesman by Ken Bacon, he taught me never to answer a hypothetical question. (Laughter.) And I always try to follow -- Ken's right here. I always try to follow his advice. We were spokesmen together. He coached me through my first difficult months at the podium. So I don't really want to -- it's not really in my interest, on this on-the-record session, to spin out the worst-case scenario that anyone can think of. (Laughter.)
But let me just say a couple of things that might help to address this issue. First of all is, we're going to -- the NATO troops there will do their job. I'm absolutely confident about that; 16,500 troops, of whom 1,700 are Americans, American troops. We will maintain law and order in Kosovo. That's our responsibility until such time that a fully independent Kosovo state emerges with its own army. But that's well ahead of this period that's just ahead of us.
Second, the people of Serbia and the Serbs who live in Kosovo and other parts of Southeast Europe would be well advised to put these dreams of irredentism behind them, because we went through four -- they went through four wars in the 1990s. And we're now at the point where, with this decision by the Security Council and by the leaders of Kosovo ahead of us, in the immediate weeks ahead, we're now at the point where we can -- all the people of the Balkans can look forward and stop looking backwards; look forward to relations with the EU, with NATO, to international assistance by the international financial institutions.
And should the worst case occur and some people elect to separate themselves unilaterally and illegally, it would simply retard the ability of Serbia to move forward with the international community. And so I don't see that scenario unfolding. I think Kosovo will remain a unitary state within the borders, its present borders, when it becomes independent. We will not support any attempt by any group of people in any part of Kosovo to secede or to engage in a unilateral partition and they will not be party to any agreement of the sort. And our European allies, as I said before, have the same view.
So while it's tempting to try to spin out all the worst-case scenarios, I actually think there is a very good chance that the people of Kosovo will react very calmly to these events and will understand that it's much better for them to be looking forward than backwards, because backwards is disaster. And it's the disaster of the last 15 years for the Serb people.
When I go to Ljubljana and look at what has been created in Slovenia, that marvelous democratic country with a successful economy, look what the Croat people are now accomplishing together to build a democratic and successful economic state, look at what's happened in Hungary and Slovakia and the Czech Republic, think how far behind them Serbia has fallen because of the extraordinarily poor and disastrous leadership that Milosevic gave them.
And so if there was ever a time for the Serb people to choose the future rather than the past, it's right now, the next few months, Mr. Ambassador, and not to choose the failed policies of the past, which no one in the international system will support. No one wants to see a repetition of the 1990s.
And I would think, in a very short period of time, the Serb people would find themselves with a standard of living and with a government committed to democracy, as are all the other governments of every other surrounding state, because they've had the benefit of peace and of recognition by NATO and of acceptance into NATO and the European Union.
That ought to be the future of Serbia, not some kind of state of limbo because they fail to accept what is now inevitable in the independence of the people of Kosovo. That's how we look at it, and that's how I guess I'd best answer your -- forgive me, in a very long-winded way, Avis -- your very good but very provocative question.
KUPCHAN: Let's go to the gentleman two rows behind Avis.
QUESTIONER: Hi, Nick. Jonathan Landay with McClatchy Newspapers. I spent many years in the Balkans writing about it.
BURNS: I remember.
QUESTIONER: And you've made one mention of a very important issue regarding Serbia's re-emergence into the international community, and that's the case of Mladic and Karadzic. But there seems to have been an erosion lately, led by the United States, of the linkage between Serbia's re-emergence or acceptance into the international community and that issue, beginning with the agreement to allow Serbia at Riga, at the Riga summit, to go into the Partnership for Peace.
Recently there have been statements from European Union leaders that are also indicating that they may drop the linkage between the cooperation of Serbia with the International Tribunal and the resumption of talks on Serbia's joining the European Union. I'd like to know about what the American -- the U.S. position is on this issue and whether or not the United States, having done what it did at Riga, support the European Union resuming accession talks with the Serbs without having satisfied the demand for cooperation with the ICTY.
BURNS: Chancellor, thank you. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to address that question. I meant to in my preparing remarks.
We believe that Karadic and Milodic are war criminal and they should be sent to The Hague to be tried. And we will not stop our efforts to convince the Serb authorities and the authorities at the Republic of Srpska and the government at Sarajevo that it's their responsibility to find these two individuals and to send them to The Hague. I was in Brussels a few weeks back and met with Commissioner Ollie Rand (ph), and I think we had a good meeting of the minds. We both -- the United States, NATO countries and the European Union countries want to respond somewhat positively to the changes that we see occurring in Belgrade. We respect Prime Minister Kostunica. We want to have a good relationship with him and his government. We respect President Tadic. And there is a world of difference between Prime Minister Kostunica -- President Tadic on the one hand and the abysmal leadership that Slobodan Milosevic gave Yugoslavia on the other. And so it's important for us to send the right signals to a democratic government -- a constitutionally elected government in Serbia and to be able to demonstrate to them, "Your future is with us and NATO and the European Union," which is what we did at Riga by agreeing to invite Serbia into the Partnership for Peace.
That was the correct decision in the judgment of our president and of our secretary of State. But at the same time, we've made it abundantly clear that Serbia will not be able to come into NATO as a member or the EU -- and the EU has made this clear -- as a member until these war criminals are at The Hague and are receiving the justice that they deserve. And so I think that's the appropriate place for us to be, and this issue has not dropped off our radar screen. It's still a very important issue.
QUESTIONER: (Off mike.)
BURNS: I can't speak for the European Union. Sometimes the EU gets upset when Americans give public advice like "Be nice to Turkey" and "Open the door for Turkey," although that is our policy. (Laughter.) And I'd like to reaffirm it tonight. (Laughter.) But I would -- I'm not a member of the EU, but I understanding of the EU policy is that the European Union believes that a continued linkage between the issue of the war crimes and future accession is still very much in order. That's certainly what NATO believes, and the NATO and EU membership is of course right now symbiotic, as you know, Jonathan, very well. I -- most of us here who've been in the Balkans have been to Shreperdiza (ph) -- have met survivors, have met mothers of kids killed there, wives of husbands killed. You can never -- you can't go to a place like Shreperdiza (ph) and forget when 8,000 people were killed in one day. And I thought it was enormously courageous of President Tadic to go there on the 10th anniversary to be there and to say that this -- that the Serb people want to separate themselves from Shreperdiza (ph). I thought that was exactly the right thing that was needed in the Balkans.
And so -- you know, we want to respond to what President Tadic and Prime Minister Kostunica have done rightly to set Serbia on a firmly democratic course. Prime Minister Kostunica is a constitutional lawyer. He is someone who all of us have an enormous respect for. And so -- you know, in diplomacy you have to give a little bit to show a country that you want a normal relationship, and that's the message we're trying to send to Serbia. But it doesn't mean you forget, and we haven't forgotten. And those two will end up in The Hague. I am entirely confident of that.
KUPCHAN: Mr. Ambassador.
QUESTIONER (Ivan Vujacic, Ambassador to the United States from Serbia): Mr. Burns, thank you for playing that up. For a moment, I felt I was Milosevic ambassador here, you know, because when you're mentioning 15 years of continuity and from what I gather and from what I know, is that we've actually made tremendous progress with our relationship with the United States after the discontinuity that we had with the Milosevic regime. And I was one of those people leading the charge, if you may say, against him and we risked our lives and our fortunes and our sacred honor for this and more. And I think that there is a tremendous discontinuity between the Serbia that you're talking about, sometimes relating to Kosovo and other issues, and the Serbia of today. I'm glad you really mentioned this because this is one question I was going to ask, but you answered it already. Thank you.
The second question that I have is the -- and this is maybe -- this is an important question not only for the Kosovo, but -- you know, we do obviously think that Karadic and Milodic should go to The Hague. This is the official position of the government. It somehow surprises me that Karadic gets linked with Milodic because we do know and we have admitted that Milodic was in Serbia for some time and was -- slipped out from getting apprehending and sent to the Hauge. But Karadic is something that we thought was an issue of Bosnia-Herzigova, and basically -- and also maybe he was crossing into Montenegro, or so the rumors were. So one question is, is there any proof or strong indication that Karadic is in Serbia, because obviously in your speech, we're being linked to responsibility of handing him over also?
And then addressing the issue of Kosovo, you know, we are not the people that repressed them. We are not -- we were repressed ourselves. We want to live with them. We are offering -- we think we are offering a good deal in the sense of a high level of internal independence, almost total internal independence in the name of multi-ethnicity. We want to live with them. It seems to me that this is not an intransigent position. It seems to me also that we're willing to compromise and even put this on some kind of a timeframe where this can be realized. And we think that this is a natural position for a country that's democratic, recognized as such including by the United States -- incidentally, thank you very much for your support for the -- (inaudible) -- was an important thing for us, and all the things that have been done in the last years to improve our relationship. But we do believe that it is a democratic state that should not be dismembered against its will. We do believe in multi-ethnicity and that is why we are offering this to them.
And finally, we do support the statement made by President Clinton, and I was in the opposition when the bombing happened and I was there all that time. And though through those ten years of that with -- what he said when the eve of the bombing was, "We support Kosovo as part of your country." And this also came in the statement by Madeleine Albright, the secretary of State back then. So all I'm saying is that we think that we can make a better deal if these negotiations should go forward. I'd like your response to that. And since you mentioned that unilateralism -- unilateral declarations of independence are off the table, would you consider a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo to be off limits?
BURNS: Ambassador, thanks. And thank you for your -- the way you acquitted yourself. You've been such a good friend to all of us in Washington. I think it's important that I make clear just once again that we certainly understand that the current leadership of Serbia -- and you're included in that -- were all among the opponent of Slobodan Milosevic and stood up very courageously when it was dangerous for you to do so. And we recognize that and we respect you for it.
I would just say in answer to your three questions, I don't know where Karadic is, but he's someplace in the Balkans, and it's the responsibility of all states, including my own, by the way, to try to find him and to bring him to justice. But that doesn't relieve your government of the responsibility to find both Karadic and Milodic. Secondly, I would say that you have -- I talked to -- I spoke, as you know, to Prime Minister Kostunica a couple weeks ago, and he had put forward a proposal of autonomy. We just think it's -- it may be 10, 12 years too late. Our view is that when the war ended in June of 1999, your country had effectively given up control because of what had happened and the unique nature of what had happened of Kosovo. The United Nations has held it for eight years. Kofi Annan entrusted one of the world's great statesmen, Martti Ahtisaari, with leading negotiations to find a way forward. His plan -- you all should read it. It's on the U.N. website. It's very detailed, it's well -- gosh, it's hundreds of pages. It provides for the security of the minority populations, the protections of the historic patrimonial and religious sites, including the monasteries, it provides for a great deal of autonomy for the communities within Kosovo itself. But it does call for independence. It's a very wise plan. To us, it's the only logical outcome, and so on that basis we support it.
Autonomy right now, in April of 2007, is just entirely insufficient when you have 92 to 93 -- 94 percent of the population -- Kosovar Albanian, and we will support -- I think the scenario we will support, a declaration of independence by the people of Kosovo, yes, we will. And I think the scenario is that -- I think most of our lawyers agreed, and Bob's probably the world's leading authority on this, but the Security Council doesn't have the right to create an independent state.
So what the Security Council is likely to do would be to dismantle the June 1999 Resolution 1244 and the provisions it made for the temporary -- it lasted eight years -- care of Kosovo; to provide for a continued security presence by NATO -- or to ask NATO to do that, because NATO, of course, has it within its own rights to establish and field that force; to ask the European Union to lead a new international civilian effort to provide for the civil affairs of the people of Kosovo and to do that on a Chapter 7 basis. Once that resolution is passed, then we would anticipate that the people -- the leaders of Kosovo -- would then declare their independence and that would then be recognized sequentially by a variety of nation states led by the United States.
That is the scenario that we envision in the month of May. And we hope that this can be done in a way that's civil, peaceful, without disturbance and of course, without violence. And again, my strong advice to the leadership of Serbia -- friends of ours -- would be to look forward and to prepare your future association with these same institutions to which Kosovo should surely be attached as well in the future -- NATO and the European Union.
KUPCHAN: Nick, we're running out of time and we have a lot of questions so I'm going to group some final ones together --
KUPCHAN: -- and then come back to you for final comments.
QUESTIONER: Marco Vicenzino, Global Strategy Project.
I would concur with what you said regarding the -- Milosevic gave up his right, to an extent, to hold onto Kosovo. And I gather that's been enshrined in the "responsibility to protect" concept in the U.N. in September of 2005.
If you get that same concept and perhaps apply it to a case like Chechnya, where mass atrocities have been committed, but cynics would say they'll never have their chance at independence, because obviously, Russia is a member of the Permanent Five of the Security Council; or if you look at the case of Sudan -- western Sudan and Darfur -- whereby the Chinese have a big interest in the energy sector and will in no way allow for such a concept to be brought to the floor of the Security Council, although much work has been done in Darfur, if people calling for independence will be prevented from doing so. And there are many other cases throughout the world based upon this concept of preventing mass atrocities -- you renounce your right to hold onto that as part of the country.
If you could provide some insight into that in saying, in the case of Serbia obviously, Serbia was a weaker government. But in the case of Russia, that'll never happen because obviously they're a member of the Permanent Five. And perhaps apply it to other cases. I don't know if -- does it need to be clarified?
BURNS: No. I understand.
KUPCHAN: Let's go to Ruth Wedgwood in the third and fourth row from the back.
QUESTIONER: Thank you.
Just a follow up, just to make this a hat trick, again, on Kosovo: I mean, in the case of the breakaway republics in the former Yugoslavia, Robert Badinter -- that wonderful great jurist who was part of the Councel Constitutional -- did set up normative conditions for recognizing the breakaway republics, which were civil rights, minority rights, democracy rule of law. And we did the Kosovo UNMIC Report, on which you were foolish enough to place me about a year-and-a-half ago. (Laughs.) I've been having a good time.
BURNS: I was pleased to do it.
QUESTIONER: And just speaking out of school in a personal capacity -- I mean, it was disappointing that even UNMIC, even KFOR, couldn't control the violence in March of '04.
BURNS: March of '04.
QUESTIONER: So measured against the bet on terror conditions, which are not formal conditions, but effective conditions, I wonder. And secondly, just in the case of Yugo and the breakaway republics, the EC said not that we're breaking them away, rather that we recognize that they have -- Yugoslavia has already dissolved. And it's arguably a different statement to say that Serbia has already dissolved.
So I wonder, as a legal precedent, it's like Belgium in 1831. It's not going to be the only case of its kind if you do do it.
QUESTIONER: Allan Wendt.
Nick, you mentioned how well other states of the former Yugoslavia have done and Serbia is so far behind. If Serbia is so far behind, how much attention has been given to the economic viability of Kosovo as an independent state? What is its future and how dependent will it be on external assistance in order to survive? And has this been a factor at all in the discussion of independence for Kosovo?
KUPCHAN: We'll take one final question from anyone who would like. Sir.
QUESTIONER: Thank you. Desmond Butler with the Associated Press.
Following up on the ambassador's question: Just to clarify, did you mean to say the United States would recognize Kosovo unilaterally, regardless of what happens in the Security Council?
KUPCHAN: Nick, you've got four minutes and four questions. (Laughter.)
BURNS: I'll take them in reverse order.
What I said, and what I meant to say, are the same thing. And that is that we envisage a process where the Security Council resolution will be passed, where the Kosovar authorities will then declare an independent state and that fact would then be recognized by the United States and a great many other countries.
From a legal perspective we don't believe that the Security Council has the right to grant independence, that that has to be taken by the people of the state themselves. But the Security Council has to undo the arrangements made in June 1999, which provided for this form of trusteeship -- I use that word loosely and informally -- because now there'll have to be a different set of institutions. For instance, the lead civilian institution will be led by the European Union and NATO would continue to provide the security that's surely needed.
So I meant to say exactly that. We expect this resolution to pass. I know there have been some rumors -- sometimes even public threats -- that maybe the veto power will be used. We think that would be most unfortunate. We think in the final analysis, after a good debate -- and we're working very, very closely with the Russian Federation, with the Chinese government, for instance, on this -- in the final analysis we hope that all governments will understand this is the best way forward.
And so we prefer at this point to be optimistic. And the scenario I laid out for you is sequential, but it does presuppose a positive vote in the United Nations. So I hope that answered your question.
On Allan's question, I think Allan is exactly right to suggest that Kosovo is going to be a weak state economically. There are some prospects for foreign investment that would lead to substantial job creation, but that doesn't happen overnight. And so there's every reason to believe this is going to be a weak state economically that will require the strong support of the IMF and the World Bank, and certainly of the European Union and the United States. And the United States is prepared, at the right time when there's a donor conference, to make a substantial contribution economically to Kosovo -- as we have been doing for the last eight years.
I would never want to tangle with Ruth Wedgwood on a legal issue, so I won't do that tonight, except to answer her very good question by saying, Ruth, that we properly set up -- we, the international community -- a set of standards that we believe that the Kosovar/Albanian authorities had to meet. And foremost among them was this issue of the variety of issues pertaining to the rights and the livelihood of the minority populations.
And we did look at this very carefully just after March 2004 and concluded that the time was not right to move towards a final status solution. It was only when Ambassador Kai Edie -- that extraordinarily gifted Norwegian diplomat -- reported to Kofi Annan in the Autumn of 2005 that substantial progress had been made, that the Ahtisaari mission was launched -- the Ahtisaari mission that will end up lasting about 18 months.
And when I was meeting with the Kosovo leadership the other night in New York and we went down all of the status issues -- and Martti in his report deals with them all -- there has been a lot of progress made just in the last two years or so. And so we believe sufficient progress that would warrant this step now towards final status, which we believe should be independence.
On the first two questions -- very good questions that deal with precedents -- I would just say that we do believe, having looked at this very carefully, that Kosovo is unique. It is different in terms of what happened to the people there, why it happened and what has happened -- especially in this last eight years of U.N. rule -- different than anything that's happened in other parts of the former Yugoslavia and certainly in any part of the former Soviet Union.
And just for the record, since there are reporters present, we do support the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation and of Sudan and would not support secessionist movements in either place. And that's been the consistent policy of the Clinton and Bush administrations pertaining to Russia since December 25th, '91 when Russia became an independent country as a successor state to the Soviet Union. And despite our very, very grave unhappiness with the government in Khartoum, and our great desire to see the U.N. put a fully capable peacekeeping mission into Darfur to protect the citizens there, we of course, honor and support the territory of Sudan itself.
So we are making the argument -- we and the European Union and many other states -- that Kosovo is unique. And because of the unique horrors visited upon the people, and the unique situation that it found itself in as Yugoslavia collapsed in the 1990s, the international community should now take the unique step of recognizing its self-proclaimed independence at some point in the month ahead. That's the argument we're making. We think it's a sound argument.
And I've had the pleasure of meeting at length with the Russian Federation with for three hours two weeks ago. I'm going to see him again next week in Berlin. And we've decided that we want to have an open door with the Russian government. You know, Russia obviously has a strong voice in this question. And we hope that when the arguments are done, Russia will agree with us that this is the right way forward. So we prefer to be optimistic for the time being.
And I will assure the AP reporter in the sequence that I said: a positive, affirmative vote in the United Nations; a declaration by the Kosovo authorities; and then a formal recognition sequentially by states on their own afterwards. That would be the order of battle -- diplomatic battle -- as we see it in the month ahead.
Thanks for a very good question.
KUPCHAN: Please join me in thanking Nick for a very thorough and wonderful discussion.
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