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U.S. Department of State

Diplomacy in Action

Balkans Update: U.S. Engagement in South Central Europe

Philip T. Reeker
Deputy Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs

Washington, DC
August 9, 2013




State Dept Image/Aug 09, 2013/New York, NY
Date: 08/09/2013 Location: New York, NY Description: Ambassador Philip T. Reeker, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European & Eurasian Affairs briefs at the New York Foreign Press Center on ''Balkans Update: U.S. Engagement in South Central Europe.'' - State Dept Image

11:00 A.M. EDT

NEW YORK FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, 799 UNITED NATIONS PLAZA, 10TH FLOOR

MODERATOR: Good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us at the New York Foreign Press Center. We’re really honored to have Deputy Assistant Secretary Philip Reeker with the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs at the Department of State. He’s going to make some opening remarks, and then we’ll ask everyone to ask their questions stating your name and your affiliation. And with that, I’ll turn it over to you, Sir.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thank you, Daphne. It’s a pleasure to be back at the Foreign Press Center, and particularly here in New York. I have very fond memories of working with the Foreign Press Center when I was a Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Public Affairs bureau, and my first visit to the New York Foreign Press Center in its new location here in the USUN Mission building. I had promised that we would try to do this on a fairly regular basis, have a discussion about our engagement with the Balkans, and I thought at this point, as we wrap up the summer, hopefully enjoying a couple more weeks of vacation before things pick up again, was a good chance to recap a lot of progress, if I may say, in the Balkan region, a lot of U.S. engagement there.

I have been in this capacity for the last two years, over two years now, having been of course in Skopje for the three years prior to that as U.S. ambassador. And as I’ve expanded my portfolio to include Central Europe, I see often how the Central European countries can give a good example to the countries in South Central Europe, in the Western Balkans, in terms of some of the areas of attention, things that need to be focused on, models of how to progress, particularly in the area of Euro-Atlantic integration, economic reform, rule of law. I think these are all things that we will continue to focus on, working closely with our European partners, the European Union, and its institutions.

And frankly, I think in the last year we have seen governments in the region who are breaking from how things were done in the past, and instead of getting mired in old conflicts, they’re looking to the future. I think there’s some realistic thinking about what needs to be done to improve the situation in individual countries, and of course, that then reflects the situation in the region. And leaders are making some tough decisions, but also some good decisions. And by engaging with their citizens, discussing the direction they’re taking, the goals in terms of reform, in terms of the European path, I think that’s allowing them to take new approaches to some of the long-held narratives in the region.

I would note that in Croatia, the successive governments there, stuck to a single goal – that is, EU membership. And of course on July 1st this year, that goal was realized when Croatia became the 28th member of the European Union. I was very honored to be a representative of President Obama for the events of Croatia’s accession along with Ambassador Merten, our U.S. Ambassador in Zagreb. And it reminds us that over a period of many years, Croatia made difficult decisions but committed resources, implemented reforms, and achieved their goals. And the path, I think, shows that the door to the European Union and to NATO integration is open to the broader region if states display the same level of commitment and the ability to see through the reform process for this so critical there.

And I would point out that we’re grateful to Zagreb for sharing the lessons learned with other EU and NATO aspirants in the region. We were just talking about languages and the ability of people in the region to understand each other, and I think Croatia, having gone through this process, has readily available a huge amount of documentation and material in the Croatian language which even I, with a little bit of help, can read and understand. And that just gives a boost in that direction. So working together and pursuing those common goals is important.

We’ve of course seen a remarkable engagement and process between Serbia and Kosovo, where both governments came to realize that the status quo was not moving them or their people forward, and implementing an agreement, the April 19th agreement from Brussels, on normalizing relations. And they’re already beginning to see the benefits in terms of the European Union and what it is offering for Serbia to begin accession negotiations on its EU membership, for Kosovo to work towards a stabilization and association agreement. These are extremely important steps in this process, and the United States is congratulatory of both Pristina and Belgrade and of our colleagues in the European Union for the (inaudible) efforts there.

We have, of course, for some time underscored and supported the process of dialogue. And while there’s still a long way to go in terms of implementing the agreements, we will continue to do that in the months and years ahead, working together to address the elections, address the challenges in that. That includes the elections that’ll be held in Kosovo, municipal elections to be held November the 3rd, something that I think is a very important step for all the people in Kosovo, but also in Serbia, for the region. That will be an important process, important step in moving the process forward.

Speaking of elections, I think it’s worth noting the successful, well conducted elections in Albania and the reactions of both sides there, which we addressed at the time as being statesmanlike in terms of the incoming and outgoing prime ministers. That serves as an example of democratic process in the region.

Now, it’s important to remember that elections do not a democracy make themselves, something I’ve said in the context of the region frequently. It’s what you do with those elections. They were well conducted, and it gives the Albanian people an opportunity and the new government an opportunity to come through this transition of governments and begin focusing again on the European reform process or those efforts that are necessary to become a candidate for EU membership. We all recall that that process was stalled in Albania due to the heavy politicization and some of the disturbing trends. But with the elections now behind ourselves – behind us and behind everyone in Albania, it’s an opportunity to get back to work. That means trying to keep the rhetoric, I think, at a good temperature, to then focus on the requirements to work with the EU and its institutions. And in that regard, they will have the continued help and support of the United States.

I think again I would just close my opening remarks by noting that many of the problems in the Balkans, while complicated by a world standard, by a historic standard, are not things that cannot be overcome, cannot be resolved with some focused attention and pragmatic leadership. Prime Ministers Thachi and Dacic have shown that. They’ve shown exceptional leadership in communicating with their publics and pushing their governments to work constructively together in terms of normalizing relations, which is good not only for their situation in their own countries but for the situation in the region.

I would point out that on the other end of the spectrum, while we’ve had some of the progress I’ve discussed, the kind of dynamic that we have seen there we have not seen in Bosnia. And there, leaders have continued to focus on more narrow short-term political interests, personal agendas, at the expense of longer-term goals. And that includes their integration into Euro-Atlantic structures. We believe strongly that Bosnia and Herzegovina is a European country. The people there, the citizens of Bosnia-Herzegovina, are Europeans and want to be part of these institutions. I think it’s important that we have less talk about the conflicts of the past, on the same old issues that recycle from one year to the next. And as we look ahead to the fall, we need to see more commitment to building strong, stable institutions and making the progress in Bosnia.

Again, the United States remains very committed to supporting Balkan states in achieving those goals of European and Euro-Atlantic integration. Croatia has already joined the EU, as we said, a high point of this summer. Montenegro is well on its way in terms of working through the accession process. And we continue to see countries in the Balkans in Europe and see the EU integration process as the tool that will build stronger democratic institutions.

So I don’t need to tell any of you here in New York or in Washington or your audiences back in the region that there are significant challenges that remain in terms of economic crisis, just as everywhere else in the world. And certainly in Europe, the South-Central European region has been hard hit by economic challenges. And we are continuing for the U.S. part to support all of the Balkan governments in implementing reforms for job creation, for entrepreneurship, for foreign investment. When I travel in the region, these are very much at the top of the agenda we discuss with local leaders and with civil society and other audiences.

Governments have got to commit to tackling corruption. I think we have to remember that this is a region-wide problem throughout the Balkans. And it’s not exclusive to the Balkan region, but of course, it is certainly a debilitating problem that saps resources from the rest of society. And there is a lot of economic reform as well as reform in the broader context of rule of law that needs to take place, that hinders economic development, hinders progress toward EU integration.

So to tell you what you already know, the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkans, we believe, is essential to achieving a Europe whole, free, at peace, and increasingly prosperous. That goal remains a cornerstone for U.S. policy in Europe, a key priority for the United States, for the State Department and Secretary Kerry and the Obama Administration. And we believe that that integration is what will bring better standards, rights, opportunities, and will foster the regional and international partnerships that are needed to face the challenges we all face together in the 21st century, in that region but also more globally.

So with that, we’ve got a good 40 minutes, and I’m delighted to take questions from our colleagues here in New York, and also I’ll be watching for you at the podium there in Washington. And I look forward to the discussion. Thanks. Thanks very much again for hosting me.

MODERATOR: Thank you so much for joining us, Ambassador. Why don’t we start in Washington, and then as journalists have questions and – sorry, we’ll start in New York and as question – as journalists have questions in Washington, they can come to the podium. Thank you very much.

QUESTION: Thank you, Daphne. Ambassador Reeker, my name is Erol Avdovic. I am representing Dnevni Avaz daily from Sarajevo.

Ambassador Reeker, my question is, as you can be sure, on Bosnia.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Many experts – and I’m going to read it; I want to be as punctual as I (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Very good. For the record.

QUESTION: Many experts – usually I don’t do it, but this time I have to. Many experts are saying that while Dayton peace accord, of course, was instrumental in getting peace, it’s failed to overcome the soft division of Bosnia – that’s the term that is used sometimes – because its institutional shortcomings. Almost on the daily basis we are witnessing the abuse and abusive rhetoric from – especially from Mr. Dodik, who is using every single opportunity to diminish the efforts to consolidate the Bosnia state.

At the top of the iceberg was yesterday, actually, when we had the hurting of one of the Bosnia returnee, if I can put like that, the gentleman who wanted to go to his prayer service. It was a holiday yesterday. His name is Nazir Dargan (ph). And he was hit by 30 years younger man, severely hurt, et cetera.

Now, do you think that the biggest problem remain in the – around name of the smaller entity, Bosnian entity, our smaller entity name (inaudible) Republika Srpska, as even the late Ambassador Holbrooke confessed at the end, and that it somehow imply that national exclusivism rather than European principle of inclusiveness, and that somehow it feeds the nationalism and even corruption and everything what is going on with that from the other side? So what you can say on that, what can we do on that, and how we can move from that (inaudible), I would say?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks from bringing up Bosnia, because as I indicated in my remarks, and certainly in my remarks and engagement in Bosnia itself – I was in Sarajevo in July, I was there earlier in May – I gave an important speech on behalf of the Administration and on behalf of Secretary Kerry at the university.

QUESTION: American?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: The American University in Sarajevo. The real challenge in Bosnia is having leadership that engages on the clear agenda for the European path toward integration into European institutions and to NATO. That’s what’s been stated across all lines, political and ethnic lines in Bosnia and Herzegovina. And what we have seen for years now is political leaders who instead pursue very narrow agendas.

The Dayton Agreement, as you rightly point out, was important in that it ended a horrible war. I knew Ambassador Holbrooke very well, worked for him in later years, and I think everyone in Bosnia would appreciate and understand the importance of ending that horrific violence. Life has returned to normal in so many ways in Bosnia and Herzegovina. People go about their daily lives, daily activities are conducted. But yet, as I mentioned in May, there is still a lot of problems. People deserve better. They deserve more opportunities. And the notion that it’s simply the Dayton structures that are at fault, I think is a false – an excuse used by a number of political leaders who actually prefer the status quo. They don’t want change because the current situation is very much in keeping with their own interests and priorities.

If the Dayton institutions and Dayton structures are not meeting the needs of the citizens, of the people, if they’re not efficient, well, then you need to change and adapt them. The constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina makes it very able for the people and the leadership to work through the institutions to make necessary changes. We’ve done the same thing in the United States in the history of our Constitution, the history of our democracy. The original Constitution has been amended numerous times, taking care of, in some cases, some serious flaws, as we had to deal with, say, the issue of slavery, civil rights, leading to the fundamental concept of equality. Well, you can see the same challenge in Bosnia and Herzegovina, where the European Court of Human Rights has made clear in the Sejdic-Finci case change needs to be made to fully reflect and embrace true human rights and equality.

And so Dayton gives fundamental structure. As we have reinforced and the Europeans have reinforced, Bosnia and Herzegovina can have a very positive European future as a single country, and it’s up to political leaders, with the support of the international community and certainly the United States along with our EU partners and so many others, in terms of civil society and nongovernmental organizations, have been there to help and have done a lot for Bosnia and Herzegovina. But we can’t solve the problems for the people there. We can’t live their lives for them. We’re not going to lead the country. That’s up to the country itself – its institutions, its leaders, ultimately its voters who select those leaders. And as I made very clear in the remarks in May, we look to leaders to engage, to show credibility to their constituents in terms of working towards common goals. Compromises often need to be made. We’ll recall that in March, political leaders went to Brussels, they looked and worked together for finding a compromise, a way forward on the Sejdic-Finci issue as one example. By the time they got back to Sarajevo, their agreements had fallen apart. I note that they’re going again to Brussels, and we would hope that they will use October 1st with the strong support and good offices of our colleagues, my colleagues in Brussels, to again find a way forward on this. These are not the kinds of issues and questions that should take so many years and prevent so much progress in order to resolve and move forward. And the EU in that regard has the full support of the United States as we work together to support that path.

If you look at the issue of federation reform, where the United States, through our embassy, supported in concept the effort to look at how the federation could be reformed – make those changes. If things are not efficient, if things don’t meet the needs of the society and the citizens, then look at how you can change them. We can’t do that for you and we didn’t. We simply offered support for experts from civil society to look at the issues, to talk to a wide range of citizens, get their views on what worked, what didn’t work, what they would like to see happen. And they put those together in a very transparent fashion with a conversation and a dialogue that was open to all to participate in, and came up with 188 recommendations of all kinds – small things, bigger things. And we would very much hope to see that they will bring – take advantage of the recommendations to draft and introduce and pass legislation and amendments that can make governance more efficient. That’s how you do these things. That’s how we’ve done it. That’s how anybody’s done it. That’s how the European Union has worked and evolved in its own development. These things are imperfect, and to make them better is a constant effort to engage and set aside personal political agendas and come to common understandings of how you can work together and be responsive to the needs of the citizens.

So I would call upon Bosnia and Herzegovina’s politicians to resume work on the Euro-Atlantic agenda as soon as possible, including resolving registration of defense property, another issue that had a political agreement and resolution but some politicians decided not to go through with that. And complying with the Sejdic-Finci judgment is critical, and that will allow the country to resume progress on NATO. The NATO sector, armed forces, has been a very successful element of Bosnian society, and as we’ve seen through so many other examples, progress on NATO suggests more stability, suggests a better investment climate, and has proven to be very positive in terms of attracting foreign investment, which of course is critical for economic growth.

Addressing some of the specifics you mentioned in your question, I think we often have to overlook the rhetoric, which, again, is part of the personal and political agendas as it’s delivered. The Balkans is so full of rhetoric that it becomes fairly tiring, and you just have to look beyond that. Most of your citizens do, is what I find when I ask people in Bosnia, “Well, what do you think about what this person said?” “Well, that’s just the rhetoric.” So let’s look beyond that and look at substance. When there are incidents, crimes, things that are unacceptable, well, those happen all over the world. It’s something called the human condition. What you have to have is a society, a structure, rule of law which addresses those issues. And in this case, I believe that there as a rapid response on the part of law enforcement to address unacceptable instances of violence.

So I think --

QUESTION: What about name?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: I’m sorry?

QUESTION: What about name? It looks that this principle of national exclusivity which is implied in the name of Serbian Republic or Republika Srpska really goes after or against the European principle of inclusiveness.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah. No, I really think you’re headed down your own agenda with that.

MODERATOR: I think there’s a question in Washington as well.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah, let’s turn to Washington. I think those are the kinds of distractive issues that have no bearing on moving forward, and I think they should concentrate on the real issues at hand. And with that and the support of all of us in the international community, I believe Bosnia and Herzegovina can have a very positive future.

MODERATOR: Okay. We need to turn to Washington.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Please.

QUESTION: Hello, Mr. Reeker. It’s Irina Gelevska from Macedonian TV.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Hi.

QUESTION: Hi, it’s nice to see you again. Mr. Reeker, about the visit yesterday of the Greek Prime Minister Samaras, he had a meeting with Secretary Kerry and also the President Obama. Can you tell us what was the message from the American side to the Greek Prime Minister, whether did you encourage him to accept a meeting with the Macedonian side in order to resolve this sooner rather than later?

AMBASASADOR REEKER: Well, I’d make sure, Irina, to refer you to the White House for any discussion or specifics on the President’s meeting. Obviously, I don’t speak for the White House, but I think’s it’s fair to say, as you know, that the meeting was about far more than just one particular issue. We have a range of things in our relationship with Greece to address. And clearly, as the spokespeople have said, both from the White House and the State Department, there was a broad discussion – the economic challenges, other common issues – with our NATO ally.

The Balkans was an issue that was brought up and discussed. And as we have done for many years, we continue to encourage Greece, and obviously Macedonia as well, to try to find a way forward on this issue. As you know, we support the process through the United Nations and Ambassador Nimetz, the Secretary General’s Special Envoy for this purpose. We continue to hope that the leaders of Macedonia and Greece will find a mutually agreeable solution, which will only make for stronger ties, greater stability in the region, which, of course, is important to economic prosperity.

Those are our goals and I think we’ve underscored that. The message to Prime Minister Samaras on that score is the same as the message to Prime Minister Gruevski when he was last in Washington, that we hope both sides can find a way forward, using the good offices of Mr. Nimetz. Again, just as I’ve suggested in other areas, we hope with the end of summer and the fall they can continue to try to find a way forward in that.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Why don’t we go to a second question in New York?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Great.

QUESTION: Ambassador, thank you. Halil Mula, with Kosovo National Television.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Is an ongoing dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. You’ve been witnessing them, or you’re taking part in almost every meeting that is happening in Brussels. Implementation of the reached agreements – how is that going, like IBM and other agreements? It doesn’t seem that it’s going very well. Today they were – the talks on the telecommunications did fail. There were supposed --

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah. I think it’s --

QUESTION: -- from – according to the media.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah. Again, according to the media is always a slippery slope. And I think words like fail in the context of these types of ongoing processes --

QUESTION: Said, yeah, Serbia did not come forward with the --

AMBASSADOR REEKER: I think this is a process. And as I mentioned, as you know, in April there was an extremely important breakthrough that is the agreement that was reached April 19th. The first agreement, as Cathy Ashton described it, toward normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. And we echoed our praise for the courageous leadership, the hard work that was done by leaders and teams on both sides, from Belgrade and from Pristina, and also, of course, the incredible work of High Representative Catherine Ashton and her team and the European Union with the support, of course, of all the member-states of the European Union in moving that process forward. And we will continue to remain engaged and supportive in every way we can.

You will recall that the Secretary of State visited the region last October. She was in both Belgrade and Pristina as part of that trip, along with Cathy Ashton, to offer support for this. It’s an EU-led process. It’s EU facilitation. I do not participate in the meetings of the dialogue itself, but we have been available to encourage both sides through our embassies, through my own engagement, the engagement of others in the State Department. Secretary Kerry has been extremely supportive of this, has spoken frequently with High Representative Ashton, again, underscoring our support for the continued process.

Implementation is, of course, key, and implementation can be the hardest part. You reach an agreement, and then you have to actually make it work. And that’s what they are doing now. I think there has been some progress, but I don't want to try to characterize on a day-to-day basis whether we’re up or down, whether there’s success or failure. Ultimately, the success will be seen in how both countries do in moving forward in creating greater stability, which will lead to greater economic opportunity, will lead to better lives for all the citizens.

And one big step in that will be the elections that the agreement calls for, to be held November 3rd, the first round, local elections throughout Kosovo. We believe this is very important. The OSCE has been working very closely with the European Union and with authorities to make sure we can all contribute in every way to make those elections successful. This is an opportunity for citizens throughout Kosovo and all of the municipalities to elect their own representatives to represent their interests and their goals moving forward and to participate in institutions which, after all, are designed specifically to make people’s lives more comfortable, more secure, so that we don’t have to go on with the tremendous uncertainty and the situation that we’ve had.

So broadly, this is, I think, a very positive direction. The agreement has demonstrated direct, respectful negotiations as the way forward on solving issues throughout the region, even what are considered the very toughest issues. And I’ve been in touch with local leaders from both Serbia and Kosovo. I’ve been in touch just recently with my EU counterparts. It’s a constant process, and they do need to keep working. A lot of people have continued working through the summer. I think there are a number of people who are not having summer holidays, as they continue to try to work on these issues.

QUESTION: Inside Kosovo parliament, it’s not working during the summer (inaudible).

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, I think there are a lot of parliaments – a lot of parliaments, our own Congress, that are taking recesses. Hope they use the time off as an opportunity to meet with their constituents to talk about what they’re doing, to understand the positive way forward. We have, in many instances, congratulated the Kosovo parliament, for instance on the wisdom in passing some of the key legislation, because the United States believes that this is clearly the way forward. There’s so many things that we can work on in terms of economic growth, consolidating rule of law, particularly if we get more stability through the dialogue process and more normalcy. Normalization is critical there.


So that will be high on the agenda this fall. And certainly, as I said, let me underscore once more the United States continues very much to see that as the path forward and will continue to support the EU in every way we can and support both countries in their courageous effort to move forward.

QUESTION: Thank you. If I may just follow up.

MODERATOR: We do have a question in Washington.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Let’s do that and we can come back at the end. Yeah.

QUESTION: Okay. No problem.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah.

MODERATOR: If you could just state your name and media affiliation, please.

QUESTION: Yes. Zamira Edwards with VOA Albanian Service. Mr. Ambassador, thank you for taking the time to address these difficult issues in the Balkans. As you know, we broadcast in three different countries that we have spoken so far – Kosovo, Albania, and Macedonia. Since the questions were already asked about Macedonia and Kosovo, I’ll just concentrate in Albania, because you answered the questions that I had planned to ask.

So Albania, as you mentioned in your opening remarks, held the elections recently. Would you like to elaborate a little bit about how do you see these elections for the future, although we are in a transition period now for the next 30 days?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, again, let me underscore that the election, I believe in June, represents a significant milestone in Albania’s democratic evolution. It was a key test as Albania moves closer to achieving EU candidate status. My European colleagues made that very clear, that everyone would be watching these elections. Indeed, the international community did all we could to support the election process and to monitor it. I think Albania joined some other countries in the region who have, in the past year or so, had successful elections that meet the standards that OSCE and ODIHR have established.

I would just reiterate what I said, that the hard work of building democracy doesn’t end when the votes are passed – votes are tallied and the winners are announced. And we are pleased that the process of forming a new government seems to be going along smoothly. The new parliament, as you know, will convene in September, and the United States will continue to support and encourage the new government to act on the powerful mandate that they now have from the voters and focus on EU candidacy, get back on the path of addressing the key reforms that are necessary. Some important legislative steps were taken just prior to the elections, but strengthening rule of law, encouraging transparency and accountability, promoting economic development, and again, I can’t underscore enough, fighting organized crime and corruption.

It’s also worth pointing out that after elections, you have a government and you have a coalition, but you also have an opposition, and the opposition has an important role to play in democracy and in realizing Albania’s EU aspirations. I personally have congratulated the new leader of the Democratic Party, which will be the largest party in the opposition. I congratulated Prime Minister Berisha on his years of leadership and, frankly, having led the country through these well-conducted elections. And I congratulated the Prime Minister-elect, Mr. Rama, when I saw him. In fact, we spent some time together when we were both in Zagreb for the accession festivities for Croatia’s entry into the European Union. I thought that was actually quite symbolic, because it was a chance to talk to Mr. Rama about our interest in seeing Albania continue to move forward to get back on the European path, to work closely with the institutions from Brussels, which, frankly, have shown enormous determination to help Albania move forward on this.

And so it’ll be a busy fall. There will be new ministers to meet. I look forward to meeting them. And, of course, none of this revolves around individuals; it’s about institutional continuity, and the United States and our Embassy will remain fully engaged in supporting our Albanian friends, our allies, in their desire to move forward for a more stable, more prosperous country, and particularly focusing on the reforms necessary for the EU path. Thanks.

MODERATOR: Thank you, Ambassador. We have another question here in New York.

QUESTION: Ambassador, I’m Cvetin Chilimanov from the Macedonian Information Agency.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah.

QUESTION: Well, as you said, you mentioned your cooperation with the European diplomacy, and the history, it’s obvious to everybody that during your term as Deputy Assistant Secretary, there has been very good cooperation between Washington and Brussels, complementing each other, supporting each other, and that’s where some spectacular achievements have been made regarding (inaudible) Serbia and Croatia.

My question is on January 1st, a Balkan country will assume the rotating presidency of the European Union; Greece will have six months to dictate part of the agenda in Brussels. Do you believe that these issues we are discussing here will be helped by the fact that Greece will be in charge of the rotating presidency, especially considering that its record is not very good? It single-handedly holds back the Macedonian opening of EU talks and NATO membership. It does not recognize Kosovo, which I presume will also be an issue during these six months. Trying to sustain and implement this agreement will be a big issue in Brussels. There is even now talk of these meetings between Samaras and the upcoming Albanian Prime Minister and this hopeful oil slick, which – oil field, which might be warming up from there. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR REEKER: No slicks. We don’t – (laughter) --

QUESTION: And also, not to mention the relations with Turkey. Turkey has also stalled in its EU integration talks and presumably will ask for – to collect – for clarification on its role in the future U.S.-EU trade agreement. This is – these are all issues which Greece does not have a good record on. So do you see that the fact that one of our own will be sort of in charge in Brussels will (inaudible)?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, one of the great things about discussions like this is that it gives you, the participants, the journalists, an opportunity to present your views. I don’t accept always the premise of many of your questions necessarily. I focus on what the United States is trying to do in terms of our policy.

Indeed, geography is something that cannot be changed. Some would suggest it’s the ultimate equalizer, because it creates the reality, and I think that’s a point that, for instance, the leaders in Kosovo and Serbia have understood. Countries in this region will always be neighbors; that cannot be changed. And that’s why we encourage all of those in the region to work together constructively to build trust between and among each other. And of course, that’s important in the Macedonia-Greece relationship as well.

In my portfolio, speaking in terms of my direct engagement, Greece is not part of the region, the way we divide things. So I don’t engage directly with Greece, but I often talk to Greek colleagues about the Balkans more broadly, and indeed, as you point out, geography means that Greece has true interests in seeing stability in the region – stability to its north and with its neighbors. There is a real desire, as Greece deals with its huge economic challenges, which was very much the focus of the discussions in Washington, as I indicated, that you want to make sure you have a stable and successful neighborhood as well. There’s nothing that will disrupt economic reform and economic progress as much as instability in the neighborhood.

So those are all things that we promote. Indeed, we have encouraged countries including Greece to engage and participate. Our cooperation with the EU institutions – with the European Commission, with the External Action Service – will continue on all of the key issues in the region. EU internal politics and the work of the rotating presidency, how it engages with the institutions, is something for them to focus on. But it is, indeed, an opportunity to play a constructive role.

And we would like to look back at the Thessaloniki Agenda, something that Greece promoted, and I think laid out a very positive direction broadly for the greater Balkan region, and that meshes very well with our goal of seeing all of the countries of the Western Balkans joining many of its neighbors as members of the key institutions of the Euro-Atlantic family, namely the European Union itself and NATO, and the processes of integrating into those organizations, we believe, are very positive. This is what we can leave behind – that is, membership and the process going through toward membership, which results in the key reforms, which are necessary in creating greater stability, but indeed, focusing on economic stability, economic growth and prosperity.

MODERATOR: Thank you. Why don’t we go down to Washington to the gentleman at the podium and then we’ll --

QUESTION: Wait.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: No problem.

QUESTION: Nenad Zafirovic, Serbian Public Broadcasting Service. Hello, Mr. Ambassador. Long time no see. (Laughter.)

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Yeah. How are you?

QUESTION: Fine. I have a quick follow-up in terms when local election, on the (inaudible). Do you really believe that the officials in Pristina will be able to hold the election in the entire territory of Kosovo if we know that there is still a very strong opposition, especially of the northern part of Kosovo, and despite all this effort by the Serbian Government in Belgrade, we still have some kind of (inaudible) institution there? Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: No, I really think the people of Kosovo, including those in the north, regardless of whether they’re ethnic Serbs or Albanians or whatever nationality, whatever ethnicity – they’re citizens and they understand what, I think, these leaders are telling them, that this is now a new opportunity so that we don’t have to continue on with this very untenable, unstable status quo, where the rights and interests of every citizen can be protected, their lives can become more normal by participating in this electoral process, by participating in the institutions which are designed of course to provide services and stability. And that’s why the United States has so supported the dialogue and this prospect.

So I think as people understand what these elections are about and what an opportunity they are, they will come and participate. I think – my experience is that the people throughout Kosovo, including all of those in the north, are smarter than sometimes perhaps some in the media may give them credit for. And the OSCE which has worked so hard and so successfully throughout the region, including in the northern part of Kosovo, but in the rest of Kosovo, and has, I think, strong ties to the people, OSCE will have a very big role in this and facilitating that. I think that is a very positive thing. We’ve seen that so many times in the region when it comes to facilitating elections.

So again, this is a key part of moving forward, a key part of normalizing peoples’ lives. And I think there’s a lot of work to be done leading up to November, but we would certainly encourage people to participate because that’s how they’re going to make their voices heard, and say this is who we want to represent us, to make sure that our concerns, that our interests are represented, and the issues that we have are addressed fully by authorities across the spectrum.

QUESTION: Thank you.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Back to – follow-up question here.

QUESTION: Yeah, implementation of the agreements.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Mm-hmm.

QUESTION: Is there a mechanism – will there be a mechanism in place that will do checks and balances, will follow up with this, or if one side does not – both what they agreed upon? What’s going to happen like if Kosovo does not fulfill agreements, does not do the implementation of – what’s going to happen? How can we make them? How the international community – Brussels, EU – can make them come forward with what they did agreed upon?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Look, it’s the same situation in every kind of agreement. These are difficult issues, often emotional issues, but the leadership has shown courage, but also, I think, a pragmatism. Prime Minister Dacic, Deputy Prime Minister Vucic have spoken to that in terms of what they want to see for Serbia, what their priority is. Certainly, Prime Minister Thaci and other leaders from Pristina have spoken to this and underscored the need to resolve some of these issues, to create greater stability, to allow resources, time, and the engagement, including of those us in the international community, to focus more on the things that will really matter in terms of boosting the economy, creating jobs, promoting investment opportunities.

Now to do that, everybody has to have goodwill, has to do their part to implement. I think High Representative Ashton, who remains very involved in this, watches this very closely. And as you know, this dialogue was very much established on the basis of requirements set forth by the European Council. The European Council said, “Hey Serbia, if you want to move forward on the European path, this is what has to be done.” And High Representative Ashton said, “I am here to offer my good offices if there is serious dedication to this effort.”

And that’s what we saw from Belgrade, was a serious determination to move forward. And what was accomplished in a period of one year has been quite remarkable. The same thing from the Pristina side, because it takes both sides to not only have the will and desire to move forward, to overcome the status quo, to resolve problems, but the dedication to see it through. And that’s why we have encouraged continuous attention to implementation. All of these things require hard work. There are working groups that have to work out details of this, and obviously if one side doesn’t work then the agreement isn’t implemented. And then you don’t reap the benefits of implementation.

So it’s establishing the trust and the ability to communicate, which I think has been critical in this as well, to understand each other’s fears, each other’s concerns, each other’s politics, to be able to respect those and to focus on the things that really are important, to focus on what has to get done and not get distracted by the rhetoric that is sometimes prevalent in the region and to focus on the real work at hand. It’s a very clear set of principles, set of things that need to be accomplished in terms of institutions, and I think great progress has been made. But it will require constant attention and constant work. That, after all, is the fundamental basis of democracy anywhere. It requires constant attention, constant work by leadership, and participation by citizens who take an interest in their lives, who don’t just sit back and let things go, but who take an interest and use the institutions provided for and to use those to collectively work together for a better future for themselves, for their children, for their grandchildren.

That’s what this is fundamentally about, and it’s a question of stepping out of some of the emotion, some of the rhetoric and saying this is an opportunity. We have so many challenges in the world in the 21st century, so many challenges in Europe, so many challenges like we have here in the United States. We have to use every opportunity we can to remove some of the challenges that can be dealt with and resolved and focused together on on these other things.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Sure.

QUESTION: Can I go small follow-up?

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Sure. How are we on time? I’ve got two more minutes.

QUESTION: Yeah. Who is going to be the new U.S. Ambassador to Bosnia? And as you know, the outgoing Ambassador Moon said that there is – it’s became a counterproductive, it’s not rhetoric. It’s just Bosnian agenda that he is not meant to meet president of the smaller entity, Mr. Dodik, because it became counterproductive. Will the new ambassador meet with --

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, it’s up to the President – to President Obama to announce any nominations for the next ambassador to Bosnia. Ambassador Pat Moon, who’s my good friend, has done tremendous work as the United States Ambassador, as the President’s personal representative, is highly admired by the Administration, by Secretary Kerry, is a terrific diplomat, has been incredibly dedicated. It’s unfortunate when we see some of the rhetoric that we have, these ad hominem personal attacks. These are only an example of weakness of character, political desperation on the part of those who participate in that.

An ambassador is a representative of the President and Government of the United States. That is his or her role. And I think Ambassador Moon has done a terrific job with that, supported by an extraordinary team of diplomats in Sarajevo who – around the country, also our office in Banja Luka – who can engage not only with the officials but also with average citizens, civil society, at all levels and throughout the country to understand their needs and challenges, to help them understand our goals and policies, and I think most importantly, to understand that they have an individual responsibility to hold their leaders accountable for making the changes.

It’s a common electoral question to ask: Are you better off than you were four years ago or three years or ago or since the last elections? And I think, indeed, people do ask themselves that. And for too long we’ve seen sort of allegiance to parties, and I think it’s important that people ask themselves: Why am I voting for this person? What has this party or this leader done to advance my interests? And if you want to focus on moving Bosnia-Herzegovina into the European Union, just as its neighbor Croatia has done, just as its neighbor Serbia is starting to do as they look forward to beginning accession negotiations, then it’s important that the people speak out as well.

Now, we saw it with the effort for federation reform; let’s hope that the leadership can embrace those ideas that came from the grassroots, came from civil society, and make things work better. Certainly, they have available to them the support and good offices of the international community – the office of the High Representative, the European Union Special Representative, the U.S. Embassy, so many other players internationally. They are there and dedicated and they have been for more than two decades trying to help Bosnia-Herzegovina move ahead, move forward, but obviously it takes the full engagement and the genuine desire of leadership to reflect the true wishes of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina if they want to move forward in that.

So in the United States you have a partner. We want to work with leaders who are credible, who keep their word, and I’m sure that’s what future ambassadors will continue to do, that’s what future deputy assistant secretaries will continue to do. It’s certainly what Secretary Kerry is dedicated to, and President Obama, as we continue to focus on so many parts of the world and challenges in our foreign policy. Certainly, our policy in South Central Europe and the Balkans will be consistent and continuous, and that is to see through our goal of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.

QUESTION: Thank you very much.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks.

QUESTION: And congratulation for that.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Any final word from – I see nobody there in Washington. So everybody’s left and gone to lunch. (Laughter.)

MODERATOR: I think they are out of --

AMBASSADOR REEKER: We’re wrapped up, so thanks for this hour. It’s a useful format. It gives us a chance to have longer conversations. Appreciate it, and we can try to do it again. Maybe we see some of you during UNGA time.

MODERATOR: Thank you for spending the morning with us.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thank you. Thanks to all the staff here.

QUESTION: We look forward (inaudible) Ambassador.

AMBASSADOR REEKER: Great. Cheers.

QUESTION: Thank you.

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