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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

U.S. Policy Towards the Balkans

Philip Reeker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
December 1, 2011


10:00 a.m. EST

MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. Our briefer today is Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Philip Reeker. He is with our Department of State’s Bureau of [European and Eurasian] Affairs. After he makes some opening remarks, we’ll give the floor to questions. And at this point, I’ll give Ambassador Reeker the floor.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, thanks very much, and it’s nice to be back at the Foreign Press Center. I used to be a fairly frequent visitor here and I’m delighted to come back again. I think the last time I was here, I was briefing on Iraq during my time as counselor to Ambassador Ryan Crocker back in 2007-2008. So it shows how the world moves on, and so do we in the Foreign Service.

I’m delighted to be back in Washington serving again the Secretary of State and the President and our Assistant Secretary Philip Gordon in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs with the portfolio for South-Central Europe, that is, the Balkans, an area of the world where I’ve had experience over many, many years in my career, in and out, and where we have been very much engaged for many years and continue to be engaged.

I expect that most of you attended or saw Assistant Secretary Gordon’s testimony before the House Foreign Affairs Committee a couple of weeks ago. Obviously, that – his testimony and his discussion with the members of Congress – was very useful. And I am pleased that I can be here to talk a little bit more about U.S. engagement in the Western Balkans. I’m sorry I haven’t gotten here earlier. I’ve been on the job now for a little over three months but have been traveling a tremendous amount of that time. That is partially a reflection of the engagement that we have in the region, not only with the seven countries that fall under my portfolio, but also with our European partners, whether it’s in Brussels with the institutions of the European Union or with various member states or other European countries with whom we work and coordinate on Balkan issues.

I think as we approach the end of 2011, it’s a good time to have this opportunity to sort of look at what we’ve done in the past year and perhaps look ahead a bit to 2012. Certainly, we’ve had some highlights since I started in this job, including the visit of Prime Minister Luksic of Montenegro to Washington, where he met Vice President Biden and Secretary Clinton October 11th. We’ll be welcoming the speaker of the parliament of Montenegro later this week. Of course, Secretary Clinton met with President Tadic of Serbia as well as Prime Minister Thaci of Kosovo on the margins of the UN General Assembly in September. Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns met with the other leaders of the region during the UN General Assembly meetings, and of course he was in Croatia in July where he had an opportunity to engage with a tremendous number of regional leaders, foreign ministers, prime ministers, and others, at the Croatia summit in Dubrovnik.

As I said, I’ve been traveling extensively. I think I’ve been in Brussels five times now just since I started a few months ago, and of course have had the opportunity to visit all of the countries in the region even before I returned to Washington after my three years as U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia.

A couple of things I’d point out. Beyond the regular political engagement and our agenda there focused on Euro-Atlantic integration for all the countries of the Western Balkans, there are also other interesting issues in areas like women’s empowerment, economic prosperity. Just recently, Ambassador Foley in Zagreb, along with the Secretary’s Special Advisor Melanne Verveer addressed over 150 women entrepreneurs from the South-Central Europe region plus Slovenia at the Invest for the Future Conference in Zagreb. It’s a major U.S. Department of State initiative.

We’ve also been working very closely on some of the more protracted problems in the region, like resettling people displaced by the wars of years past. And just earlier this month – actually, now it’s December, so I guess earlier in November – the foreign ministers of Bosnia and Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia endorsed this five-year $770 million plan to provide permanent housing for 74,000 refugees and internally displaced persons. And we’ve pushed very hard for this initiative, working with our Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, and we’re going to continue to support that.

So let me end with that and go straight to your general questions. It’s a busy time in the region, it’s a busy time here in Washington, and I appreciate all of you coming out today. And welcome to our colleagues in New York as well.

MODERATOR: All right. Before asking your questions, please wait for my acknowledgement and for the microphone from one of my colleagues. Also please state your name and your media affiliation.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you so much, Mr. Reeker. Vendran Andonovsky from Voice of America Macedonian Service.

Macedonia will join NATO as soon as its name dispute has been resolved is the answer that we usually get from U.S. officials on the name issue. And it’s been a longstanding policy; however, given the fact that the two sides apparently are too far from a solution for so many years by now, is there any plans to change the U.S. policy, maybe to do some increased push ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago, given the fact that experts like Kurt Volker recently said that the U.S. and European Union need to reassert the validity of the interim agreement and try to get Macedonia into NATO under the reference forum, and then deal with the name issue? Also, in view of that coming decision of the International Court of Justice, how will that change things?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Certainly, on the International Court of Justice, I wouldn’t want to prejudge anything in that decision, which I believe is expected next week. Monday, I think, the court has announced they will issue a decision in that.

But the basic situation remains the same. The North Atlantic Council, that is, NATO, has stated very clearly and repeated on numerous occasions that Macedonia will be issued an invitation to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization upon resolution of the name issue. And we would continue, as we have for a long time, to encourage the two countries, Macedonia and Greece, to work together to find a resolution that’s suitable for both parties. And as we’ve said, we would embrace that.

So this is something that we cannot do for the two countries. We have, over many years, encouraged both of them. We’ve applauded efforts by now former Prime Minister Papandreou and Prime Minister Gruevski to meet and discuss the issue. And of course, we continue to support the efforts of Ambassador Matthew Nimetz of the United Nations, Secretary General Special Representative for this issue. He is available to the parties. And it’s by coming together and continuing to seek the appropriate way forward on this the two parties will resolve that.

MODERATOR: We will now go to the New York Foreign Press Center. New York, please go ahead with your question.

QUESTION: Hi, Halil Mula, RTV21, Kosovo National Television. Ambassador Reeker, good to see you again back. Technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, agreements being reached (inaudible) participate in these meetings. As I said, agreements being reached from Serbia – between Serbia and Kosovo but not being implemented from Serbia. Northern Kosovo is still land with no law. It is being run by illegal structures and organized crime lords whom are fighting NATO, even shooting at the NATO soldiers, blocking free movement with barricades.

Any exit here? What are we doing? What is the United States doing in this regard? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thank you for the question and for joining us from New York. First, I would note, as you did, that we have been deeply engaged in these issues, and I would just call your attention to the statement put out earlier today by the North Atlantic Council, which met in KFOR format in Brussels, where NATO allies and the KFOR partners expressed their deep concern about the recent developments in northern Kosovo, which we all continue to monitor very carefully.

I would reiterate that the use of violence against KFOR is absolutely unacceptable, and we condemn attacks on KFOR soldiers. Certainly, as the KFOR partners noted, we welcome Serbian President Tadic’s statement of November 29th regarding a call for the barricades in northern Kosovo to come down. We’ve been asking Serbian Government officials to be explicit about this for months, so we welcome that statement. And as the North Atlantic Council said earlier today, this has to be followed by concrete actions.

You did note the importance of the dialogue, the EU-led process which is taking place as we speak in Brussels. This is an opportunity for Kosovo and Serbia to sit down together with the support of the European Union’s mediator, Robert Cooper, to find solutions and ways forward on critical issues that can improve the lives of the people of Kosovo, of Serbia, and particularly those in the north.

There have been a number of agreements that have been reached through that process. As you note, implementation is a critical part of that. And I would just highlight that the president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, reiterated as well the importance of implementing in good faith agreements reached through the dialogue.

So we’re pleased to see the parties at the dialogue; that’s the way forward, not with violence. And once agreements are reached, which is critical as we look forward to next week, November – December the 9th, when the European Council will consider the European Commission’s opinion on Serbia’s application for European Union membership, as well as other positions and conclusions about the Western Balkans, it’s important now to focus on the time remaining to fulfill the requirements and allow the European Council to judge each country on its own merits based on, as President Van Rompuy puts it, fair and rigorous conditionality.

It is something we share very much with the European Union; that is, a commitment to the European perspective for the Western Balkans. And that is the United States commitment, whether that’s for Serbia, for Kosovo, or Bosnia, or the other countries of the region. The aim is to reinforce peace, to reinforce democracy, stability – part of our long-term policy. And we are doing that very much in coordination with our European partners.

So to sum up in response to your question, dialogue and implementation are critical for finding ways to move forward peacefully. Thanks.


QUESTION: From Voice of America, Jela de Franceschi. There are several VOA people here. I cover the Serbia and for Montenegro Service.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: We have to take a moment just to praise and think of our colleagues from the Croatian Service of VOA, which, of course, is finishing its broadcasts as Croatia now moves to become a full member of the European Union. Certainly, that marks progress in many ways.

QUESTION: Absolutely.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: We like to think that VOA, the role that all of you play, has been important in that.

Please, go ahead.

QUESTION: Okay. So this is an opportunity for you to speak to the Serbian and the Montenegro public.

What is the assessment of the State Department of these events in – the recent ones? I mean the violence that broke out in Mitrovica area. Is – what are the ties of the Serbian minority to Belgrade in this case? Does Belgrade – do you hold Belgrade responsible, at least to a point, for the breakout of this violence?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, certainly, there are steps and measures that the Serbian Government in Belgrade can take. We’ve long called for addressing the issue of the Ministry of Interior Personnel who are on the payroll of the Serbian Government who are working in northern Kosovo and in some cases have actively supported the barricade construction. The parallel authorities who have led efforts to construct barricades limiting freedom of movement are also funded by Belgrade. And we would call upon the Serbian Government to take action to prevent construction of bypass roads on Serbian territory that help circumvent the Serbia-Kosovo border. There has long been a presence of Serbian police which contravenes the UN Security Council Resolution 1244, and that is an area where we think Belgrade can take more action.

That’s why the dialogue remains so important in dealing with some of these technical issues, whether it’s integrated border management, or dealing with regional cooperation, or issues like recognition of diplomas. There are a number of areas that are critical, and that’s why we have – the United States has encouraged the European Union-led process where representatives of both countries come together to work out these issues without regard to their positions on – in terms of status or recognition, but to deal with concrete issues that affect the lives of citizens in the north as well as in Serbia and in the southern part of Kosovo.

And that’s what we would continue to encourage. It’s what the European Union has encouraged. It’s what the European Commission made quite clear in their progress report of October 12th: Get back to the dialogue, implement what is agreed at that dialogue, deal with barricades. They need to come down. KFOR and EULEX, who have worked extremely well together to fulfill their respective mandates, need to have the full freedom of movement that they are entitled to so that they can enforce and see that there is not only the freedom of movement but a peaceful and secure environment in which daily citizens can go about their lives and work towards a better future.

QUESTION: And if Belgrade doesn’t really move before the – I mean, show some signs of taking action, could that be a setback for Belgrade in the 9th of December talks?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, we very much have supported the European perspective of Serbia. They’ve done a tremendous amount in terms of economic reforms at home, in terms of cooperation with the ICTY and judicial matters related to that. The European Commission has made very clear and the European Council has spoken and individual European Union member-states have made quite clear that Belgrade needs to take further actions, including engaging actively in the dialogue and implementing with good faith the agreements that are reached and what has been reached so far.

Obviously, on December the 9th, the European Council representing all 27 member-states of the European Union will take their decisions. And we continue to join with the European Union in reaffirming a commitment to the European perspective and, from an American standpoint, what we can do to help all the countries of the region, including Serbia. And our assistance programs are designed in that way to help them meet these criteria and move forward, because we see Serbia very much as a European country with a European perspective. That’s the future and that’s what we hope they will take advantage of now – this opportunity to move forward on what is, in our view, the best future for all the people of Serbia.

QUESTION: One last one –

MODERATOR: I’m sorry, we have just a few more minutes and many questions still. I see that we have a question in New York. New York, please go ahead.

QUESTION: Thank you very much indeed for taking my question. My name is Erol Avdovic from Web Publica Press. I’m a longtime correspondent here in New York at the United Nations, also traveling for Daily Avaz from Sarajevo and National Weekly from Zagreb, Croatia.

Chance by chance, Ambassador Reeker, is passing by Bosnia, and they are not able to form government for 14 months now. I cannot, unfortunately, compare Bosnia with Belgium, but Belgium is apparently going to have its government very soon. What can you do more? Many people, as you know, in Bosnia are expecting more engagement, direct engagement even, from the United States Government as a friend to accelerate that process. And I know that you don’t like – you have a policy not to (inaudible) to the – I don’t like to say culprits, but those who are not helpful. Would you do that this time?

And also, any thoughts on upcoming elections in Croatia? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks. Thanks for the question. And certainly, I was just recently in Bosnia, in Sarajevo, and I’ll be going back again when the Peace Implementation Council is meeting, I believe the 12th and 13th of this month.

You’re absolutely right. Fourteen months have gone by since elections, since citizens, voters, went to the polls, casted ballots, elected representatives who have not done their job and have not sat down and formed the most basic structure, that is, a council of ministers, a state government, for Bosnia and Herzegovina. It’s really something, frankly, they should be ashamed of.

And we have been very much engaged. Our ambassador on the ground, Patrick Moon, working very closely with the new European Union special representative, Ambassador Peter Sorensen, also with the High Representative Valentin Inzko, to urge the leaders to live up to their responsibilities. It’s in their interests. It’s in their interests as leaders, as politicians, but it’s in the interest of the people. I think as Assistant Secretary Gordon said, however, a few weeks ago, we can’t want these things more than they do. But clearly, that’s a priority, and I think it’s something that the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina deserve.

It’s not we in the international community who will suffer if the leaders of Bosnia can’t form a functioning government and move forward. It’s their people who should be able to move forward, move forward on their European perspective, to pass laws that will help complete their SAA and let them move forward in the European Union process, to complete the defense property requirements so that they can move forward in the Membership Action Plan with NATO. These are key things that will help Bosnia and Herzegovina deal with the real challenges of the 21st century – attracting investment, promoting entrepreneurship and opportunities so that they can make the use of their best resource, which is their people. And the people deserve to have political leaders who can form a government, sit down together, and move ahead.

So we’ll continue to call for that and hope that they may take some lessons from Belgium, as you noted, and get a government formed and put an end to this. Thanks.

MODERATOR: We have a question over here on the left.

QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador Reeker, Ardita Dunellari with Voice of America. Going back to the situation in Kosovo, what would you like the authorities in Pristina to do to stabilize the situation at the moment as they’re trying to also extend their authority and establish law and order in the north? And what would be their next step at this moment?

And if I may, I think a question that relates to all of us. The Transparency International just issued their new annual report, and it seems most countries in the Balkans, with one exception, have backtracked. And while the United States has had a lot of programs in place, like the Millennium Challenge and others, it seems that progress in the fight against corruption has not been showing much success. So what is the stance of the United States to this issue?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, let me take that part of your question first. I haven’t seen the new Transparency International report, which is one measure of corruption and rule of law in countries all around the world, so I can’t comment on that specifically. But we all know that corruption has been a challenge, continues to be a challenge, is a problem that holds back these countries in the region.

And I think the best example is to look at Croatia. Croatia made a fundamental decision, as a government, as a society, that they were going to change the way the country worked, changed what was considered acceptable in terms of economic transaction, in terms of governance, in terms of application of the rule of law. And that’s not easy. It takes true leadership. But you can see the results. We’re delighted that Croatia will join as a full member of the European Union by 2013, and that is real progress. And I think Croatia can be a model for the other countries in the region to follow in that regard.

Your colleague asked earlier about the elections in Croatia, and I failed to mention then that, obviously, we watch very closely, as we do in countries all around the world, the elections that will be held on the weekend, on the 4th of December. And we will look forward to working closely with whatever government is elected in Croatia in the future. Croatia is a strong ally and NATO member as well as about to be a new European Union member.

Now back to – what was the first part of your question?

QUESTION: Pristina.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Pristina. The Government of Kosovo from Pristina has been engaging well and actively in the dialogue in Brussels. They have attended – they’re there, of course, today as that process goes on. And as they have undertaken agreements, they have implemented those agreements. And that’s what they need to continue to do. They need to continue to focus on their reforms at home. We’re actively involved there, as we have been throughout the region, with assistance programs to help in that process. We encourage, as High Representative Ashton and others have, the European perspective for Kosovo as well. And they need to continue to working in that direction.

They also need to focus on outreach in the north so that all of their citizens, all citizens of Kosovo, can understand what Pristina can offer, can set aside some of their fears, their misperceptions. That’s an important area as well, and the international community continues to stand ready to assist in that kind of outreach and engagement.

But for now, we’re focused on the dialogue. These next days are critical, of course, as we look towards the 9th of December and the conclusions of the European Council. And that will reflect, I think, much of the efforts made in the dialogue vis-à-vis both Serbia and Kosovo.

MODERATOR: Mr. Ambassador, I know that your time is running short. Do you have time for –

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah. No, we can take a couple more.

MODERATOR: All right, sir. In the back, please.

QUESTION: Thank you. Irena Chalupa, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. Mr. Ambassador, a few weeks ago there was a conference here sponsored by the CSIS. I see several of the members of the State Department who participated in that conference. And the general tone of it was that perhaps it’s time for Dayton 2 – the Dayton agreements have certain elements or in tenets in it that are, in fact, blocking progress. Do you think that’s the case?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: I think what we need to focus on is using Dayton for what it is there for. The Dayton agreements brought peace after a horrible period in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and provided a structure for the country to move forward on the basis of one state, two entities, three constituent peoples. And we continue to support that.

Clearly, as with any system, there are shortcomings, there are challenges. And what the leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina need to do is take responsibility, first by forming a government, and considering what things they could do to make changes if they see ways to make things work better, whether that’s in the federation, where things could be more efficient and operate more smoothly. First and foremost, form a government. Concentrate on the European perspective. And the EU and its special representative, presence of delegation in Sarajevo, is very active in this regard, working very closely with us and with the Office of the High Representative to give opportunities to the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make the most of assistance programs, of EPA funds, to move into the track that other countries have followed towards the European perspective.

And that’s what we think is critical at this point is focusing on the issues at hand and not being diverted by all kinds of ideas for conferences or more discussions. It’s very clear from the discussions that we’ve had that there is work to be done. And what we would like to see is those leaders who have been elected to take a responsible attitude, represent their constituents, and work toward meeting some of these criteria. And the people will see the benefits in terms of projects, infrastructure projects like the Corridor 5c, which is a great opportunity to boost trade, development opportunities, communication connections. This is where people should be focused, rather than on narrow political agendas.

MODERATOR: We’ll take one final question.

QUESTION: My name is Uros Piper. I’m new correspondent of Serbian Tanjug News Agency here in Washington.


QUESTION: Thank you. What is United States position regarding this accusation of terrible atrocities in human trafficking in Kosovo? And when we can expect some first judiciary results in that case?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: I think you’re referring to the report done by the Swiss senator, Mr. Marty. We take such allegations and such reports very seriously. I think you’ve heard that before. And we are very much supporting the efforts to fully investigate these allegations and reports. EULEX, the Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, is extremely well-structured and prepared to handle this, and they have created, as you know, a special task force.

The United States has funded and provided one of the top experts in this field, Ambassador Clint Williamson, former head of War Crimes Initiatives for the U.S. State Department, who has been lauded and praised by experts and top officials throughout the region, to lead that effort. And he has taken up work. He is based in Brussels but has traveled already in Kosovo and Albania and Serbia, and his team is coming together and we believe will do a thorough job in investigating these allegations and seeing the process through.

One in the back, since he’s been waiting.

QUESTION: Thank you (inaudible). My name is Ivo Puljic. I am from Al Jazeera Balkans, bureau chief here in Washington, D.C. My question is connected with situation in Bosnia. Because it seems that nobody can do anything there, is totally everything is stark, everything is bad, people are desperate inside of Bosnia, international community tried to do something but we don’t have any results. Can United States maybe put more effort in some economy way, put more invest in Bosnia to resolve the situation? Can we avoid politics and put more –

AMBASSADOR REEKER: I think first, the premise of your question is perhaps a little off the point. If you look at where the region has come in the past two decades, and if you look at the past 15 years in Bosnia and Herzegovina, I think everybody would say there’s been enormous progress. Is there as much as everyone would like to see? No. Is there a frustration at the lack of true leadership and initiative by political leaders in Bosnia? Yes. It’s what we’ve discussed and what our engagement, along with that of the European Union and the rest of the international community, is focused on.

I think you’re absolutely right that the economy is key. And in the 21st century, particularly in these difficult economic times, the competition is fierce. And for Bosnia and Herzegovina to attract investors, to build its economy, to take advantage of its strong human capital, its well-educated population, to promote entrepreneurship, to promote investment, they’re going to have to focus on taking all the reforms necessary, following through on the agenda to pass the appropriate laws to move ahead in the European Union context. By moving forward on their NATO membership track, they will become more attractive to investors, for instance, including potential U.S. investors. This is something we’ve seen throughout the region in countries that have transitioned over the past 20-some years.

Those are simply facts, and I think the leaders in Bosnia and Herzegovina would do well for their people, for their country, to look at the examples of other countries and fulfill their responsibilities. And that’s what our diplomacy, our engagement, our assistance, our coordination with our European partners and others who have a stake and an interest in helping Bosnia and Herzegovina and all of its citizens move forward, what we will continue to do.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thank you. Okay, thanks, everyone. I look forward to seeing you in the future.

MODERATOR: Thank you all very much for coming. The event is now concluded.

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