Interview
Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Pristina, Kosovo
June 16, 2011


ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Maybe before I take any questions, just to get a few basics out there. To start by saying how pleased I am to be back in Kosovo on my fourth visit to the country since I became Assistant Secretary a little bit over two years ago. I am this week on a tour throughout the Balkans. I've been in Bosnia for a couple of days; I was in Belgrade yesterday; I'm going to Zagreb tonight. And I think that's a reflection of our deep engagement in the Balkans, our deep engagement with Kosovo. I have been pleased on this visit to observe the progress this country has made over the course of those four visits in the past couple of years on a number of key issues that we care a lot about. The development of this country's democracy based on rule of law. I met with the President this morning and I congratulated her on her election, and noted that that's a success not just for her but for this young democracy -- demonstrating that even as it goes through political changes, it can cope with those changes. And that's a success. The success of a democracy isn't one vote one time; it's democratic transitions. And that was a really positive thing. I met with the Prime Minister as well. I met with the full economic team which was encouraging to see how focused the government is on economic issues because I'm convinced that building a successful, free-market economy is really a key to Kosovo's success. So, we discussed economic issues. We discussed rule of law. We discussed foreign policy and in particular, the dialogue with Serbia which is something that the United States supports. And I was encouraged to hear how seriously the government takes that as well. So, those are some of the basics to have out there, and with that, I look forward to all of your questions.

QUESTION: Mr. Gordon, Thank you. Nice to see you as always. That brings hope to this region. I am going to pass the question about the dialogue; already we got an answer earlier today at the press conference, but, let’s go again to old ideas of division of Kosova. You said earlier that, you were very clear on that issue but, could you be more precise and clear about that question. Is there any chance that division of Kosovo be on the table in the next – near future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I'm not sure how much clearer I could be. I said earlier that it's not something that we are considering, would consider or will consider. And I gave a number of reasons why it's not in our interest, or anybody's interest. As I underscored earlier, the idea that states should be built on one ethnic group is an outmoded idea. It's not consistent with the 21st century, it's not consistent with Europe, it's certainly not consistent with the Balkans. And so we don't support it and we don't plan to support it. There are other ways to make sure that all of the citizens of Kosovo have their rights and security protected. And we encourage the country to explore those ways and make sure that all citizens of the country feel included; but, partition is not the way to go.

QUESTION: I run a TV show “Slobodno Srpski” so, it wouldn’t be fair from my show to speak – a little joke since my English is very bad so, due to that fact. We know that you support the investigations on the allegations reported by Dick Marty. I am interested to know, if the allegations will be confirmed, will the U.S. policy towards Kosovo change, in any way?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, let me reiterate, to be absolutely clear. We take these allegations seriously. They are serious charges, and they should be fully and absolutely investigated and followed to their logical and legal conclusion. It's not possible at this point to speculate on what conclusion that will be or what implications that would have for the government. But I'll be very clear -- the investigation needs to be full, fair and thorough, and then conclusions drawn. But I think it's premature and makes no sense to speculate about any implications prior to the investigation taking place.

QUESTION: Actually I will start with economy. How do you think it my reflect on the economy of Kosovo and the future reports with the International Community, due to the fact that we lost the deal with the International Monetary Fund. How do you think, this will reflect?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, as I mentioned, I had lunch today with the Prime Minister and the full economic team and I took that as a sign of their understanding that a successful economy is really the key to the future of this country. We had limited time and it could have been used to discuss any number of issues but it was clearly the Government’s choice to spend some time focused on the economy and the role of private investment and the free market and -- this gets me to your question -- the role of the international financial institutions. And, I underscored and I think the Government agreed that it is important to work with the IMF and that doing so would facilitate further support from international financial institutions and World Bank support and then in turn private investors. So, there is no question that a country like Kosovo needs support from international financial institutions which are looking very carefully at the books and at the budget and I was pleased to hear the Government recognize that point.

QUESTION: The U.S.A. has made it very clear that – you said to Besim that Kosovo’s division is very dangerous and it is not on the table – but what can be done to have authority in the Northern part of Kosovo. As we know the North is the weakest part of Kosovo. It is a black spot, if you can say. So, what can be done? We have parallel structures there from Serbia, and nothing has changed, it’s getting worse. What can concretely be done? Do you have any advice on this?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: That’s a very good question. I think several things need to be done and I acknowledge that it’s a major issue in which the status quo is a problem and needs to be changed. I think several things are important in that regard. One is, our diplomatic strategy for the region that includes Serbia moving down the path to European Union membership. And I think our position has been clear, I think the position of key EU member states is clear that for Serbia to move down that path, which it says it wants and it really does, that it needs to come to terms with Kosovo and deal with the situation in the North. And that’s the only way forward. And I think that the European Union is clear with Serbia that needs to happen and that will help make progress on the question on the North. I think success in the South is critical to dealing with the situation in the North. When we talk about the economy, the more Kosovo becomes a thriving, prosperous, free country, the more all of its citizens will want to be part of that success. And that will help the situation in the North and I think then the Government needs to continue to reach-out and demonstrate to all of the citizens in the North -- whatever ethnicity -- that they are genuinely a part of the country, that the country plans to invest there, that it respects their cultural rights and self-governance rights and security. And I think all of those things happening at the same time will help advance the situation. You know, we all wish there were some magic wand to wave or some power that could be quickly wielded to impose full sovereignty, territorial integrity and clarity on the situation but that’s not the reality. So I think instead, patient working along these other lines is the way to bring about success for everybody.

QUESTION: There are European sources which say that maybe a specials status or something will be given to the North, which means the police and justice system will function [inaudible] of Kosovo, but with their own municipality. Is this something that U.S. would accept?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: When it comes to issues like special status, the devil is always in the details. There are a lot of different – I mean, every region is special in its own way and there are different regimes and different degrees of autonomy and self-determination and self-governance in lots of regions in lots of different countries. So, you have to be careful with words when you say we’ll support this or that. Already I think Pristina has recognized that there should be a significant degree of devolution and it doesn’t need to be centralized state and people in different municipalities should have a strong degree of say over how they govern themselves. You know, just like in lots of countries, the United States has significant power devolved to the states as well, but it’s one country and has one foreign policy and one membership in international organizations. So I would stick with that. Every region is special in its own way and it’s for the people of the region and the country as a whole to determine exactly how much devolution is appropriate and necessary but, it shouldn’t be impossible to develop a plan that makes them feel included and want to be part of Kosovo.

QUESTION: Sir I am going to interconnect with the concerns on the North, you made it clear what Pristina should do, to what extend do you think Belgrade is controlling the north and should it be held accountable for the limbo in any way? Should its entrance be conditioned to the EU with resolving those issues in the North?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think that there is any doubt that Belgrade has significant influence on the North. Clearly it’s not only Belgrade that is controlling the North. There is a strong view of a number of people in the North itself so it would be wrong to attribute it solely to some outside force. But clearly I don’t think Belgrade even tries to hide the fact that it plays a major role in the North. In terms of holding it accountable, I think that you know, when the European Union says that Belgrade and Serbia needs to deal with Kosovo before it can enter the European Union, that’s a way of holding it accountable – if that’s the right phrase – it’s a way of saying that the status quo is not acceptable. Changes to the status quo need to be made. Belgrade‘s role or political role or financial role in the North is part of that status quo that needs to be changed in order for membership to move forward.

QUESTION: Until when relations between Serbia and United States can successfully develop having in mind agreement to disagree when it comes to the status of Kosovo?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We have tried to demonstrate that we want a better relationship with Serbia that should not be held hostage to the single issue of Kosovo. When Vice President Biden came here very early under the Obama administration, he recognized that U.S. - Serbian relations haven’t been fully developed. He made absolutely clear that we were not putting aside our views on Kosovo. That we strongly support Kosovo’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence and we were going to stand by Kosovo – that we are a friend of Kosovo. But we also wanted a better relationship with Serbia and thought and think that having a better relationship with Serbia would facilitate everything we are trying to achieve in the region. We have advanced down some paths in a better bilateral relationship with Serbia, but we’ve done so without subordinating our strong and clear views on Kosovo and they understand what those views are and they are not going to change in the interest of better relations with Serbia. But we want good relations with all countries in the region and Kosovo should as well. Kosovo will benefit from a Serbia that has good relations with the United States, from a Serbia that is moving towards European Union membership. That’s our vision for the entire region and it requires us to have good and strong and friendly relations with all the countries in the region. That’s what we want.

QUESTION: Let’s talk a little bit about U.S troop presence in Kosovo, there has been some many rumors that U.S military Camp Bondsteel will be closed as a part of NATO troop reduction in Kosovo [inaudible]. Any details on this issue? [inaudible]

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: As you know the number of troops in Kosovo has been gradually reduced over the years as the security situation has permitted. We don’t think that we are yet to the point where they can be reduced further or be removed entirely so it will depend very much on the security situation. Our assessment at present is that a U.S. presence and a KFOR presence remains necessary. We would like to get to the point where it is not necessary, but we are also going to be very cautious about any premature withdrawals. Of course there is pressure on our budgets and our troop presence all over the world because there are a lot of demands on American military forces and it is a costly investment to keep them here, but it is also one that remains important and we are determined to ensure that the presence remains appropriate as long as it is necessary.

QUESTION: Lately, some politicians in Kosovo are promoting the idea of unification of Kosovo to Albania. What do you think about that idea and if that mission is possible?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: What I said about the territorial integrity in response to question about partition of Kosovo applies across the board and throughout the Balkans. The current borders of the states in the region should be respected, shouldn’t be changed and that applies whether you are Albanian, or Serb or anything else, so that’s a longer way of saying no.

QUESTION: I will continue with economy, you were discussing progress in Kosovo and we cannot achieve economy and political stability in Kosovo. You mentioned that what Pristina said and our Prime Minister said that and the group of experts said but what was your advice to achieve economical stability in Kosovo?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think I mentioned some of the key principles. I mean obviously I didn’t come with a detailed economic plan in my pocket to present to the Government of Kosovo. But some of the key principles of a heavy focus on the private sector and private investment. We think that's a key recipe for economic success and again, that seemed to be consistent with what the government is doing -- attracting private investors. To do that you need rule of law and a priority on anti-corruption because nobody's going to invest if there's not a way of protecting those investments. And I heard about plans to ensure the protection of investments. And you need to make sure that corruption isn't going to swallow up the investment that you make. I mentioned the international financial institutions, and a degree of fiscal responsibility that is enough to get support from those institutions. I think those are some of the core principles that I underscored as important for Kosovo's economic success. And as I said, they seem to be consistent with what the government has in mind.

QUESTION: I would like to focus on Kosovo recognition from all over the world. I think this year we have just two recognitions and we are desperately [inaudible]. Kosovo desperately needs more recognitions to be [inaudible]. So, how is USA helping Kosovo's government and do you think Kosovo’s government is doing the right thing? And is the dialogue with Serbia in a way, if we can say so, contributing not to have new recognitions, many people are waiting [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I discussed this question extensively with the Prime Minister, with the President, and a few days ago when I met in Sarajevo with the Foreign Minister, as well, who is undertaking a global tour, in part, to promote recognition of Kosovo which is something we strongly support. I think I mentioned earlier that we've been disappointed at the pace in new recognitions since the ICJ opinion which was clearly in Kosovo's favor. It made clear that nothing in international law said that Kosovo's independence was inconsistent with international law. And a lot of countries had been telling us that they would be prepared to recognize once the ICJ weighed in. And then the ICJ weighed in and they didn't recognize or, they haven't yet in many cases. And so we've been continuing to encourage them to do so. And I told my interlocutors today that we remain prepared to do so. The dialogue shouldn't be an excuse not to recognize Kosovo. We've made clear not only that we do, but the reasons why we think Kosovo should have been – should be recognized. The vast majority of EU member states and countries in the region recognize Kosovo. So I don't have any further advice for the government. I think it's doing the right thing. We talked about the linkage between recognition and some of these other issues that we are talking about. In other words, if Kosovo is developing its democracy, underscoring rule of law, and developing a free market economy, the recognitions will come. Kosovo's image in the world is relevant to that question. And the more people can come to see Kosovo as a growing democracy, I think the more recognitions the country will get.

QUESTION: On the dialogue, Pristina and [inaudible] there have been calls from both capitals for more transparency on the subjects discussed and eventually on the agreements that they will agree upon. How much is the U.S. involved in these talks?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It is an EU-mediated dialogue. If you’ll recall the origin of this, which was it came out of the UN agreement following the ICJ opinion. The agreement was to have an EU-mediated dialogue. And that's what it is; and that's why it takes place in Brussels. And it's largely in the hands of the European Union. We will be helpful where we can be. And when they invite us to sit in, we're happy to do so, and happy to help facilitate if we have a particular expertise in any of the particular areas they might be discussing, whether it's electricity or telecoms or customs. We have a lot of knowledgeable people who can help. But we're not in the lead; we're not a formal part of the process. We talk to both sides. We talk to both sides before and after the Brussels meeting to encourage them to move forward in practical ways. And that's the role we're playing. We're just trying to be helpful. Ultimately, it has to be an agreement between the two countries. It's for them to decide which issues to discuss. It's for them to decide what's acceptable to them or not.

QUESTION: How many times have they invited you to sit in?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think there have been four rounds of the dialogue so far. I think that an American has been present at most or all of them. But my, what I said was, it's an EU-mediated dialogue and they can invite others to sit in when appropriate. If it turns out we're appropriate every time, that's terrific. If it turns out we're not necessary sometime, that's ok too. If it turns out someone else can be useful, they should invite somebody else as well.

QUESTION: About rule of law when will institutions in Pristina be without people suspected of crimes, war crimes and whether they are obstacles for integration in this region.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I'm sorry, would you please repeat the question.

QUESTION: When is institutions will be without the people suspected of crimes -- organized crimes and corruption and war crimes. And whether they represent an obstacle for integration in this region.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Which institutions are you talking about?

QUESTION: All different kinds of institutions, like we may start from Central Bank. Many of my colleagues will, he’s suspended, but he’s still part of the bank as far as I know [inaudible].

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I’m not familiar with the case so I don’t want to address that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Is that it? Okay, thanks, everybody.

[This is a mobile copy of Interview with Kosovo Journalists]