Interview With Vildana Selimbegovic of Oslobodjenje
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
QUESTION: I would start from Ratko Mladic. He’s the most wanted Hague fugitive, is finally in Hague. What does it mean in your opinion for the process of reconciliation in our region?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First of all I would say from a U.S. point of view the arrest of Ratko Mladic was a very welcome development, something we have been waiting for for a long time, something that was overdue, and something that we supported actively with the government of Serbia, so we were delighted to see that outcome.
What it means in Bosnia and Herzegovina is really up to the people of this country to determine. Hopefully coming to terms with the past and bringing Mr. Mladic to justice will foster the process of reconciliation that is really necessary for this country to move forward toward the future.
QUESTION: Serbian analysts claim that your country and the European Union are together testing Boris Tadic in relation to three cases -- Kosovo, Ratko Mladic and Milorad Dodik. The first two tests Tadic obviously passed. What is going to happen with the Dodik test?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m not sure I would entirely share the thesis that the first two tests are entirely passed and Dodik is in a different category. On the question of Kosovo, we do believe that the government of Boris Tadic has made a fundamental decision to join the European Union. What remains to happen is for that same government to understand that coming to terms with Kosovo in some way is a necessary part of that decision. So we are encouraged that a dialogue is taking place. It is a positive thing. They’re sitting down at the table for the first time and talking about real issues. But I would say very clearly that more needs to be done. I don’t think that the countries of the European Union are prepared to take in a country into the EU or even move down that path until there is some clarity, until there’s some control over the border of what would be the European Union. So I just want to be very clear on that point.
We very much welcomed the arrest and the activities of the government of Serbia in finding Ratko Mladic but no one should think that that entirely satisfies the process of EU membership.
Obviously that’s not a call for the United States, but it is our strongly held view and we believe it’s the view of European countries as well.
On the question of Serbia, Tadic, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Dodik, I obviously can’t comment on or know the entirety of the relationship or what advice President Tadic might be giving Mr. Dodik. I think the official position of the government of Serbia, that it respects the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a positive one, it’s one that we share and we’ve heard Serbian leaders say that publicly many times. So we welcome that.
We would rather see a more clear line that Mr. Dodik needs to take actions that demonstrate his own support for the institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina, the future of Bosnia and Herzegovina, as a functioning state.
QUESTION: Recently we heard different positions between your country and the European Union, exactly when it was about the actions of the arrests and the cancellation of referendum. I am actually interested to hear the following, whether the United States are changing their course of action or the European Union is not sufficiently consulting about the policy with your country, and I mean concretely about Ms. Ashton and her visit to Banja Luka.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We actually consult very closely with the EU on the full range of issues in the Balkans including the question of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the issue most recently of the April 13 proposed referendum and conclusions.
I am in personally regular touch with Mr.Lajcak. Secretary Clinton and Catherine Ashton talk about Bosnia very frequently. I think we took the same position in response to the April 13 proposals. Both of us very quickly came out and made clear that we thought this was unacceptable, to be direct about it, but that it wasn’t within the RS competencies to put forward such a proposal and such conclusions and that it was a violation of the Dayton Peace Agreement. So I think we were on exactly the same page when it came to responding to that.
In the meantime we consulted closely on how to respond. The European Union then got the assurances that you’re talking about,about pulling back the referendum and the conclusions. I think what we’re focused on now is that what the assurances that Mr. Dodik seems to have given to the EU are upheld. So it is true we continue to have questions and we’ll continue to insist on what was our original position which is that the referendum shouldn’t happen and that the conclusions need to be withdrawn.
We hope that the assurances that the EU received from Republika Srpska leadership are upheld, but we’ll be watching it very carefully to make sure that they are and we will continue to consult very closely with the EU.
We both realize, that is to say Washington and Brussels, the United States and the European Union, that we can only succeed in this together. If we allow the parties to divide us or if we take different positions then we are less likely to succeed. I think it has been one of the pacts of our administration to try to do this together with the EU. I’ll remind you that in the first months of the administration when Vice President Biden came here, he came here together with Javier Solana, Baroness Ashton’s predecessor as our representative, that was a demonstration, if you will, a signal, that we were trying to send, that we’ve tried to send ever since. Whereas we may have been divided at times in the past on Balkan issues, the United States and the European Union are determined to stay together in helping.
QUESTION: The same day when the decision on the referendum was canceled, Mr. Dodik declared that Bosnia and Herzegovina is going to dissolve. He didn’t say that it has to happen during his mandate, but it will happen. He also claimed that he has great support of a major part of European countries. He excluded United States and Great Britain. He also claimed that you will have to make some concessions, I am quoting Mr. Dodik, quoting what he said on Serbian TV. So will the United States allow that to happen?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we’ve been pretty clear not just in recent weeks and months, but years, about our unwavering support for the Dayton Peace Agreement and the institutions of Dayton and the territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina. We have not for a minute waivered on that issue and we won’t in the future either.
It doesn’t work for us to imagine scenarios of secession or partition. I also think, I’m surprised to hear any notion of European countries having a different view. As I mentioned a minute ago, we’re in very close touch with our European partners and I’ve never heard any of them suggest that they could live with any form of secession or partition of this country. I think that’s just analytically mistaken to imagine that any of us aren’t committed to maintaining Bosnia and Herzegovina as a country.
Within that of course we are committed to two vibrant entities that have a very significant degree of self-government, that are not threatened in any way by some notion of a dominant or unitary state, and I think that anyone realistically looking at the positions of those who support Dayton and Bosnia and Herzegovina would understand that no one is trying to impose such a vision on the entities. What we are trying to do is help those entities work together in a way that serves all of the people of the country and those who suggest a different path of the future I would argue are not acting in the interests of those of the country.
QUESTION: Your country was engaged on the April package, then attempt with Butmir package also failed. I listen to Mr. Biden recently. He was also talking about two vibrant entities. Have you given up the more functional Bosnia and Herzegovina? Actually does the United States intend to have another maybe engagement related to the changes of the Dayton constitution? And if it’s not a problem, could you tell me what are the messages you are bringing from your country?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Sure. Just on the question of a more functional state, this is an issue for the people of the country. We can and will help and we haven’t given up because we think it’s in the interest of the people to have a more functioning government, a more functioning government would facilitate the country’s path to European Union membership, to NATO membership, which we believe would benefit all of the citizens of the country.
Ultimately we can’t want it more than the people of the country themselves. So it’s not really a question of whether the United States is going to give up on or move forward with such an agenda. We are available to help the people of this country produce a more functioning government. If they or their political leaders don’t want to do that there’s only so much we can do. What I can say, and this will be one of the messages of my speech tomorrow, is that the rest of the region is moving forward also with our help and support. In our view Europe won’t be complete until the Balkans is fully integrated into European institutions. Countries have made some progress. Obviously Slovenia a number of years ago joining the EU, Albania and Croatia joining NATO. Serbia has taken a step forward with the Mladic arrest and other steps, a dialogue with Kosovo. Macedonia will join NATO when the name dispute is resolved. Montenegro is taking some positive steps. So Bosnia and Herzegovina will be left behind if its leaders are more focused on preserving their own personal gains or perpetuating ethnic divisions as opposed to pursuing a more functional state. So we’re not going to walk away from that. Indeed part of my message in being here in our commitment to the country and our continued readiness after having invested so much over the past 15 years and more to do so. But obviously we need the help of the parties and ultimately the responsibility rests with the leaders of the country more than with us.
QUESTION: I have just another question, whether that responsibility in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be actually considered to be of the actors who are generating the crisis or it’s going to be equal distribution? Why am I asking you this? You know that for 15 years Bosnia and Herzegovina has been a very divided country and with traces of war still present and it seems it’s not just that Croatia and Serbia who have completely different systems and structures thanks to their engagement in Bosnia and Herzegovina are ahead of Bosnia and Herzegovina when it comes to their path to European Union accession.
What am I asking you? I’m asking you can Bosnia and Herzegovina remain within the jaws of political wills which are the obstructions to its progress? Will the IC, international community, identify the ones who are to be blamed and start acting differently?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As a general principle, we’re not going to take sides, so to speak. I don’t think it would be helpful for the United States to decide which side we’re on, back one side over another. It wouldn’t work. The country can only move forward when there’s agreement of all of the parties to do so.
So that’s not something that we’re thinking about. That said, when there are specific violations of previous agreements and if those violations are put forward by one side as opposed to another, we’ll be clear and blunt about that as we have been. And in cases of the most recent challenges to the state, it’s been clear who it is we’re talking about and when we’ve talked about consequences or measures we might take in response to that and our strong support for OHR as necessary in using Bonn powers to prevent that, we don’t hesitate.
But I don’t think it would be helpful for us to pick and choose and decide which side we’re on. Ultimately all of the elements in this country are going to have to sink or swim together.
QUESTION: Thank you very much.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you.