Remarks With Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci
Secretary of State
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SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you very much, Prime Minister Thaci, and it is wonderful to be here in Pristina. I want to thank you for the warm welcome, and also to acting President Krasniqi and Foreign Minister Hyseni and to all of the people in Pristina who waved at me and smiled and shook my hand when I stopped to see my husband’s statue. I am very excited to be here on behalf of President Obama. I come not only officially as the Secretary of State, but personally as a member of a family very committed to the future of this country.
I also want to send a special greeting to all of the American troops as well as the troops from our allies and partners serving at Camp Bondsteel. I’m sorry that I could not get out to visit you personally on this trip, but I thank you for everything that you are doing to support stability in Kosovo and across the region. President Obama and I are committed to helping the countries of the Balkans achieve lasting stability and prosperity. Certainly, my husband, President Clinton, shares our commitment and is deeply connected to this place. As president, he worked hard to help the people of Kosovo live in peace, free from persecution.
He and I and President Obama and all Americans have been proud to stand with Kosovo through the years. We are honored to be your friends and your partners and we are impressed by all that you have achieved in the past few years. So my being here is a real vote of confidence, Mr. Prime Minister, in what you are doing and in the future that you are attempting to chart – a new future not only for Kosovo, but for the region. And I thank all of you for being part of that great commitment. Kosovo and the United States have been partners through war, through the intensive rebuilding that followed the war, and through Kosovo’s hard-fought journey to independence.
From the start, the United States supported Kosovo’s right to exist as a sovereign, independent state within its existing borders. We welcomed the International Court of Justice’s recent advisory opinion affirming Kosovo’s legal right to declare independence. And now we will continue to support Kosovo as it does the hard work of building a stable, prosperous, and democratic country that is at peace with its neighbors and increasingly integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community. To that end, the United States is encouraged by the upcoming dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia which offers a chance for these countries to settle practical problems and overcome obstacles to being good neighbors.
As I said to Prime Minister Thaci today and to Serbian President Tadic yesterday, some matters, like the status, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Kosovo, are not up for discussion. But the leaders of both countries must approach the dialogue in good faith and with respect for each other’s concerns. These talks represent an opportunity to address immediate and practical needs while making progress toward mutually beneficial goals – for example, increasing travel and trade. So the United States has urged both Serbia and Kosovo to come to the table with a plan – and we know that Kosovo has already presented a framework -- and to lay the groundwork for a positive, long-term relationship.
Now, this is not easy. We understand that. But there are many countries in Europe and elsewhere who have long histories of conflict, such as France and Germany, that are now cooperating, trading, working together. It is our hope that in the future, we can say the same about Serbia and Kosovo.
As a brand new country with a dynamic, multiethnic population and the youngest population in Europe – as I saw in the streets with all the beautiful babies and children that I had a chance to see – Kosovo is called to do many things at once. Kosovo is called to instill a tradition of democracy and establish strong public institutions to spark sustained economic growth, attract foreign investment, and create jobs for all of those young people; to continue with a transparent plan to privatize inefficient state enterprises like the electricity and telecom companies; to establish a firm commitment to the rule of law; free, fair, transparent elections; and to encourage people from different backgrounds and ethnicities to live in harmony and work together to build a common future. All of these tasks are essential and none of them is easy.
The United States will continue to provide whatever support we can to the people and Government of Kosovo as you work toward these goals in the months and years ahead. We will assist as needed with the upcoming elections. They are a milestone for this new democracy. And we know that they will be transparent and faithful to the constitutional order. We will support the development of Kosovo’s private sector. We see great potential for Kosovo’s economy to grow, especially if you make investments in your young people, who are, after all, your country’s greatest resource.
We will support Kosovo as you prepare to join Euro-Atlantic institutions like the European Union and NATO. They represent Kosovo’s best chance at a long-term future of stability and prosperity. And we will help as Kosovo works to integrate Serb communities more deeply into the country. Kosovo’s multiethnic heritage is a point of pride for many of your citizens who recognize that your diversity is a national strength, one that we share and cherish in the United States. Later today, I will visit one of Kosovo’s cultural treasures, Gracanica Monastery, a Serbian Orthodox site dating back to the 14th century.
I will also visit with the newly elected mayors of Serb-majority municipalities, who are pursuing a path of engagement and integration with the national government. This is to be commended and actively supported. The people in these communities must see that being full and engaged citizens of Kosovo pays off in concrete improvement to their lives. Now, this is mainly a task for the central government. But here again, the United States will support leaders at every level who are working toward a united, diverse, democratic Kosovo.
While there is no question that there is a long road that we must travel together ahead of us, let us stay focused on where this road leads, a future in which an independent, multiethnic Kosovo is secure and thriving, where opportunities for young people are abundant, where democratic traditions are strong, and where peace reigns throughout the region. That is a future worth working for.
Kosovo must take the lead yourself. But I want you to know, Prime Minister, that just as we have been with you on the hard road to independence, we will stay with you. We are your partners and we are your friends and we are very committed to your future. Thank you very much.
MODERATOR: (Via interpreter.) Now Secretary Clinton and Prime Minister Thaci will take your questions. We have time for four questions, two from the local press and two from the American media. We’ll start with (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Inaudible). The question for Secretary of State: How does the United States shape their participation in the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo? And when do you think this dialogue should start?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Thank you. Well, we talked at great lengths with the prime minister because we want this dialogue to be a very positive experience for Kosovo. So starting tonight in Brussels and continuing tomorrow and then over the weekend, I and my colleagues will be meeting with European Union officials to structure this dialogue. There are a number of questions that have to be answered about the process, putting it together, which we will begin to address with our colleagues here and with the EU and the Serbians.
We think that the dialogue should start as soon as it is ready, because even though there will be elections here, and then in the following year, elections in Serbia, we believe that it is in Kosovo’s interests for this dialogue to begin and to conclude in as expeditious a manner as possible. So we’ll have more to discuss with the prime minister and your government officials once we continue and complete our consultations with the European Union.
One thing that I told the prime minister is that the United States will play a supportive role, that we believe strongly that there needs to be a very clear path for this dialogue. It cannot go on for a long time. It needs to be focused and produce results. There are some issues, like missing persons, that your experts and Serbian experts could start on tomorrow. So we have to sequence it and do it the right way. But we will be in close touch with the prime minister and the government here to report on our discussions with the European Union.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) second question, CNN.
QUESTION: Good morning. Yesterday, President Tadic made a lot of really pro-Western and pro-U.S. statements, and it really sounded like the Serbians were immediately ready to talk. What is – you said you were going to – wanted to be involved, what do you really want to do? What is that going to look like specifically for the U.S. involvement in those talks? And what message did you get from the Albanians and the Kosovars, too? What do they need to do to be ready immediately, because the Serbs said they were immediately ready?
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I think both sides are ready, but there has to be a structure for the dialogue. That’s what we’re working on. In fact, when the prime minister was in Washington, he delivered a proposed framework from the Government of Kosovo. And as you heard yesterday, President Tadic made very clear this dialogue will not open status issues. They have been resolved by the International Court of Justice advisory opinion. So what we have to decide on is the agenda and the sequence and the participation. This is primarily a dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo, two states that border one another, that like any states which border each other, have issues that they have to work out. The EU has a stake in it because the EU cares about the stability and peace of all of Europe. And the United States has a stake in it because we are committed to a peaceful, stable Europe, and most particularly in the Balkans, and we are, as I have said, very strongly supportive of Kosovo’s independence and rights.
So I was very encouraged by what I heard yesterday in Belgrade. I’m encouraged by what I hear today in Pristina, so that’s why we’re going to get down to work tonight and tomorrow with our European Union colleagues and begin to design this structure for these dialogues which we would like to see start as soon as they are ready.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) next question (inaudible).
QUESTION: (Via interpreter.)
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, I have personally worked on behalf of countries recognizing Kosovo. After talking with the foreign minister, I have a list of additional countries that the United States will be reaching out to. We think it’s important to continue to increase the numbers of countries that recognize, particularly after the ICJ opinion, which, we believe, settled the matter of independence once and for all.
I also believe that the approach that the Government of Kosovo has been taking has really earned admiration and support from around the world. And I think that the upcoming dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is another chance for Kosovo to make its mark not only as a newly independent state, but as a democracy committed to democratic institutions, constitutional order, which we saw in action when the Constitutional Court made its decision and your president abided by it. There are lots of people who are really paying attention to how Kosovo is conducting itself. So I think that this is an issue that will gain more and more support in the coming months and years.
MODERATOR: (Inaudible) last question goes to Reuters?
QUESTION: Madam Secretary, if I may on the Mideast, the Palestinians have rejected Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer to extend the talks if Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state. My question is: Do you believe that Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state is fundamental to any future agreement? And are you now more or less optimistic that the two sides will get a deal in the coming months? And if you have any thoughts on President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, given the situation there, we’re all ears. Thank you.
SECRETARY CLINTON: (Laughter.) Well, first of all, both sides are testing out a lot of different approaches, offers, requests, between each other. The United States remains deeply involved in working with both parties. I am personally convinced that both leaders – Prime Minister Netanyahu and President Abbas – very much see it as in their respective interest to return to and proceed with direct negotiations. So I remain both committed and hopeful that the parties will get back into direct negotiations and begin dealing with the core issues between them.
With respect to President Ahmadinejad’s visit to Lebanon, the United States supports the integrity and sovereignty of Lebanon. We reject any efforts to destabilize or inflame tensions within Lebanon. We are very committed to supporting the Lebanese Government as it deals with a number of challenges in its region. And we would hope that no visitor would do anything or say anything that would give cause to greater tension or instability in that country.
And I don’t know whether anything I might say would have any influence; I highly doubt it. But I believe that it’s a message that the world needs to convey to the Iranians because of the balance within Lebanon that needs to be maintained.
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