Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
November 15, 2011

QUESTION: We talked about Kosovo a lot and I just wanted to ask how much of a problem is it that five countries have not recognized Kosovo from European Union? How much of an impediment this is for doing the job there, especially with the situation in the north?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Obviously our position on recognition is clear and we would like to see all countries, but particularly those non-recognizers in the European Union move forward with recognition. I think in three years Kosovo has demonstrated that it’s committed to being a democracy, a multi-ethnic state, that it wants to join the European Union. The vast majority of EU members have recognized, and recognitions continue. I think there’s been another 15 to 20 over the past year. We’re up to 85 recognitions now. The trend is clear. The European Union would be more effective if all of the countries had recognized Kosovo and we continue to urge them to do so.

QUESTION: And can you elaborate a little bit on urging them to do so and on the involvement of the U.S.? Because as you mentioned, the Arab Spring has kind of overshadowed the situation there. We would like to know a little more about the U.S. engagement, Washington’s engagement in the region.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Thank you for asking the question because I do want to say that notwithstanding the other challenges in the world, and of course Iran and Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya occupy a lot of our senior leadership’s time. We haven’t lost sight of the importance of this region. And Secretary Clinton has personally committed to it and when we have our dialogue with our EU partners, the Balkans looms large. So when you ask what specifically we have done in terms of recognitions we do bring it up. We raise it with those EU members that have not recognized, we raise it with the EU members that have because there is a view among most of us that the real future for Kosovo is as a recognized state that is a member of the European Union. So believe me, it is something I tackle frequently with my counterparts, as do my colleagues.

QUESTION: One last question about the region as a whole and about the political climate. One of the problems for the region that comes up is the political maturity of the leaders, and the citizens of this country have --

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The political maturity of leaders?

QUESTION: Yes. In terms of corruption, in terms of making reforms, and not only for Kosovo and Serbia but also Albania and other countries that aspire to the European Union. How engaged is the U.S. in moving this agenda along and leave behind the old mentalities and bring forth democracy?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s a prerequisite for good relations with the United States and it’s a prerequisite for joining the European Union. And fighting corruption is a high priority for us in our embassies in the region, and we leave no doubt that if you want to fully benefit and you want your country to benefit from relations with the United States and from integration in the Euro-Atlantic institutions, this is an absolute minimum. I made the point about Croatia joining the EU. Fighting corruption was a critical criterion there. Other countries need to know that their efforts to join Euro-Atlantic institutions simply won’t be supported so long as there’s endemic corruption in the country.

QUESTION: Thank you.

QUESTION: Turkey and Syria. Going forward after the Arab League, how do you think U.S. and Turkish partnership can make a change in Syria?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s obviously a big challenge. What I would say is that the United States and Turkey have been working very closely together and I think share the same goals. We saw in New York at the UN General Assembly not too long ago Turkey announcing not just a critical view on Syria, but even sanctions, and the Turks have done what they said they would do. They made it clear that Assad needed to reform if they wanted to preserve that important relationship with a neighbor. They gave him a certain amount of time to reform and said there would be consequences if you fail to do so. When he failed to do so they have started moving down the path of those consequences, just like the United States. It’s something we talk about regularly and have worked very well with Ankara on.

QUESTION: Those sanctions never came forward from Turkey.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Turkey has made it clear that there would be consequences, sanctions, in particular in the arms relationship and we would like to see even more because in our view there has to be consequences for Assad’s violence against his own population.

QUESTION: Secretary Gordon, it was pretty clear that you expressed disappointment with inability to form a government in Bosnia over a year after the elections. Is it up to the State Department, international community, EU, or civil society to exert more pressure? Whatever pressures were exerted thus far, it didn’t work. There are no inklings that the government is being formed.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We are very much engaged, but ultimately it’s the responsibility of the leaders and it’s in their interest. I think I said we can’t want these things more than they do. It’s not a question of U.S. pressure on one particular leader to make a compromise. The leaders need to know, they need to feel pressure from their own people because that’s who’s not being well served. Frankly, the United States can go on, and as we’ve discussed, there are a lot of other issues in the world and a lot of great challenges when you look at what we’re facing. And it’s not the United States that will suffer if the leaders of Bosnia can’t form a functioning government and move forward, it’s their people and they need to hear from their people about why it’s important.

QUESTION: You also said that Dayton is necessary but not enough. Can you elaborate on that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: It’s necessary because without Dayton, Dayton is the foundation for the country to have a functioning government. But by not enough, we’ve seen Dayton has been more or less respected for 15 years and there are still huge insufficiencies. The economy is not succeeding as it needs to to respond to the needs of the people. Bosnia has managed to be minimally represented internationally even though it’s a struggle every time. There has been some reform in integration of military forces, but still a failure to agree on the disposition of state property and defense property, so Dayton is a minimum condition. You need Dayton to be respected, but you need much more than that. Leaders need to have more of a vision of going toward the future.

QUESTION: Taking into account that it’s specifically Dayton that requires people to identify themselves by ethnicity, thus any one group doesn’t feel like Bosniak, Croat or Serb, who just feels Bosnian, can’t run for office yet. We’re seeing that there is a lack of Bosnian identity which seems to be troublesome for the entire country. How is that to be overcome?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Obviously identity politics has been a huge source of trouble in the past. Step one was to stop fighting among different ethnic groups. Fortunately for everybody that goal has been accomplished. It is true that while three constituent peoples has been recognized as a core part of Dayton, the EU has also made it clear that to be a member of the European Union anyone of any ethnicity in Bosnia and Herzegovina should be able to be elected to any office. That’s a reform that’s going to have to be made. And in the longer term future, the vision needs to be to get beyond-- nobody imagines that any time soon you’ll really get beyond entities and ethnic groups, but cooperation among those groups and a willingness to work together where it’s not ethnicity first but the country first or even being European first, that’s the long term vision that’s going to be necessary.

QUESTION: You actually first U.S. official to talk for Al-Jazeera about this. Thank you for that.

I was in Bosnia a few days ago and I have feeling many people think it’s a conflict. Armed conflict is still possible in Bosnia. What do you think about that?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I don’t think that we’re on the verge of or anywhere near armed conflict. Obviously at any place where you’ve seen armed conflict in the past you need to be vigilant and you need to be concerned and we never want to be complacent about such a thing. Armed conflict is possible and violence is possible anywhere. But fortunately I think we’re a long way from that. The issue is really how to get the parties to move forward. It’s not so much preventing a return to violence. I don’t see any signs that that’s what the people are thinking of. And frankly, my strong sense is that they’re sick and tired of violence and they want to move forward.

QUESTION: You were talking a few minutes ago about possible connections between Kosovo and the situation in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina. Do you see any connections between Kosovo and Bosnia- Herzegovina? We noticed some people like to see some territories changing, something like that.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: This situation in Bosnia is one of the many reasons why partition in Kosovo would be a bad idea. Because once you start down that path and raise the question of states being built on ethnicity, you put in question the future of Bosnia. It’s just not a viable recipe for the region. It’s the past and it’s not the future and it’s not something we’re contemplating in any way.

Thank you.