Deputy Assistant Secretary Phil Reeker on "U.S. Policy Toward the Western Balkans" (Oct. 19, 2012)
FOREIGN PRESS CENTER WITH AMBASSADOR PHILIP REEKER, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR EUROPEAN AND EURASIAN AFFAIRS
TOPIC: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY: WESTERN BALKANS UPDATE
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 19, 2012, 11:30 A.M. EDT
THE WASHINGTON FOREIGN PRESS CENTER, WASHINGTON, D.C.
MODERATOR: Good morning, and welcome to the Washington Foreign Press Center. We’d also like to welcome our colleagues at the New York Foreign Press Center, who are joining us via digital videoconference, and anyone who is watching us on livestream.
Our briefer today is Deputy Assistant Secretary Phil Reeker. He is going to provide an update on U.S. foreign policy toward the Western Balkans. We’ve got a big group here, so I think I’ll turn it over to him.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Great. Thanks very much. It’s always a pleasure to be back at the Foreign Press Center here in Washington, and welcome our colleagues from New York. It seems just like just a few weeks ago I was in New York along with, of course, Secretary Clinton and other senior officials for the UN General Assembly meetings. That included a number of bilateral meetings with heads of delegation from the Balkans region.
The Western Balkans, as you all know, continue to be a priority for the United States, a priority for us in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs. We work very closely with our European partners on issues in that region. We believe very much – I think it’s worth reminding everyone at the outset – that the future of the region is a future where every country can achieve its European and Euro-Atlantic aspirations, where no country that chooses the path of integration is left behind. And the strength of our engagement with the region on all levels, I think, has never been clearer than it has been in the last several months. I think a lot has happened since we last had a chance to be together, so I thought spending a little time on this Friday was a good opportunity to recap some of that.
Of course, we’ve had elections in two of the countries in the region – local elections in Bosnia and Herzegovina, parliamentary and local elections in Montenegro. It’s worth noting at the top that in both cases, the OSCE’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, ODIHR, has noted that these elections appear to be free and fair and conducted in a democratic and peaceful atmosphere. We’re very pleased to see that. I think that demonstrates, again, a further strengthening of the democratic process – again, very important, another step closer for those countries and for the region in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration.
There was some particular focus on the mayoral election in Srebrenica. The final results in Srebrenica have not yet been certified by the Central Election Commission, but I’d like to say at the outset we have the same message, no matter which candidate is successful, that we would urge the new mayor of Srebrenica to serve as a mayor of all citizens of Srebrenica, regardless of their ethnicity. The new mayor is going to have to work with the entire community to promote reconciliation, a very important theme for this region; to encourage a full return of refugees; ensure safety and security of all citizens; and to focus on Srebrenica’s difficult economic challenges.
Economics, of course, is a major theme in all of our discussions. Our embassies are very much engaged in the economic statecraft that has been a priority for Secretary Clinton and this Administration around the world, particularly in the Western Balkan region. And it’s something that I highlight on my own travels. In the last couple of months, I’ve made, I think, my 14th trip to the region since becoming Deputy Assistant Secretary about 15 months ago. Add to that a lot of travel to Europe for regular consultation with our European partners, both in Brussels and in individual capitals. And of course, in September, I was delighted to have a chance to visit Albania and then to go to Kosovo. I was in Pristina, where I was able to join Martti Ahtisaari, Pieter Feith, and other officials for the end of Kosovo’s supervised independence. It was really a good opportunity to see what’s been accomplished in Kosovo in the four and a half years since its independence, and to then look at some of the challenges for the future.
And of course, as I mentioned, we had the UN General Assembly. Every one of these seven countries in the South Central Europe region, as we define the Western Balkans at the State Department, had a delegation there. We had bilateral meetings with all of them, a chance to review and catch up on our bilateral relationships, as well as looking ahead to challenges in the region.
I think one of the main challenges we all know is the Serbia-Kosovo relationship, and we’re very pleased today to see the announcements out of Brussels by EU High Representative Catherine Ashton on the continuation of the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. It’s something that we support very much. Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton are in close contact on these issues, as are Assistant Secretary Gordon and myself, with our counterparts in the EU, and we strongly support the continuation of dialogue toward normalization of relations and a resolution of differences that will allow both the Republic of Kosovo and the Republic of Serbia to move forward on their European paths.
We also had, of course, in the last couple of weeks, the release of the European Commission’s annual progress reports on aspirant countries who are seeking to become members of the European Union, and we have reviewed those reports. They give a very good set of benchmarks to review, in some cases demonstrating and highlighting the need for more progress in some countries. And I think that’s something that all of those countries can use as a practical matter. When there are mixed results, it means there’s more work to be done. And I think economically, of course, if you take a look at some of the other reports that come out – IMF’s World Economic Outlook – we’ve got challenges all around the world, not least of which are in the Balkan region.
So it is very much time for leaders in the Balkan region to work in their countries, with their democratically elected governments, with those of us in the international community, and within the region, of course, to partner together to deal with these challenges.
I'd just close these opening remarks by noting again that we believe there is a bright future for the Balkans. If you look at where the Balkans have come collectively in the past hundred years, it’s a far cry from where they were during the Balkan wars of a century ago. If you look at where they’ve come just in the past two decades, and even in the last couple of years, there’s been tremendous progress, and much of that is focused on Euro-Atlantic integration.
It’s a challenging process. It’s one that takes, of course, patience and energy and motivation, but it also takes leadership. And I believe that if leaders stand up to the tasks to which they are elected by their citizens and constituents and accept the hands that are outstretched to them by the international community, we can continue to see more progress in the region.
Let me just stop there in terms of introductory remarks, and I’d be happy to take your questions and comments.
MODERATOR: All right.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: First hand.
MODERATOR: Please, as we move to the Q&A, please remember to identify yourself by name and media organization, and please stay in your seat so that you don’t block the camera shots.
QUESTION: I’m Keidra Kostreci from VOA Albanian Service, and I have three questions, but one of them is from – for the Macedonian colleagues.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: One at a time, please. (Laughter.)
QUESTION: One – okay, one at a time.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: We can start with Macedonia. I’m always partial to that.
QUESTION: Okay, then. I’ll just read. How do you evaluate the current state of interethnic relations in Macedonia? Defense Minister Besimi’s visit to a monument to NLA fighters in one of the villages and the bill on retirement benefits for some of the police members who participated in the 2001 conflict stirred lots of emotions and even shook the government coalition. Your comments, please.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: I think I addressed a number of those issues when I was in Macedonia the last time, in August. It was around that time that some of these issues had come up. Again, these are issues that the people of Macedonia and their leadership need to work through. Interethnic tensions are not exclusive to Macedonia or the Balkan region. Countries all over the world, including here in the United States, have to deal with these things, learning to live together, to use our diversity as a strength, to overcome grievances and past conflicts.
I think that’s something that, broadly, in Macedonia they’ve been very successful at doing. If you think of where Macedonia was just a decade ago, the 2001 conflict, which brought the country to the brink of a civil war, and looking at the neighborhood, how horrible those kinds of wars and ethnic conflicts could be, Macedonia, as a country collectively, working with the international community, overcame what would have been a horrible situation. And with the Ohrid Framework Agreement, as exactly that – a framework, a set of principles and ideals to work forward with the constitution of the Republic of Macedonia – I think, broadly, everyone has done a good job of moving forward.
There are always going to be challenges, there are always going to be things that need to be worked through, but reconciliation is a very important concept. I spoke about that when I was in Macedonia last. I spoke about it when I served in Macedonia in recent years. And so I think that’s something that everyone in Macedonia should think about.
I had an opportunity to see President Ivanov in New York on the margins of the General Assembly and had a very nice, over an hour, meeting with him. He is a leader who stands for moving forward for integrating all the people of the country and making that a strength of Macedonia. I think that is recognized, and I think we all know that political leaders and citizens can overcome these challenges. It takes work. It takes work for us here in the United States. 230 years later, we’re still working on meeting the ideals of our Constitution and making the most of the resources we have, including our diversity.
So that continues to be a challenge for Macedonia, but it’s worth pointing out that Macedonia has made some progress in terms of its EU path. We welcome that very much. I spoke about our embrace of the High-Level Accession Dialogue Macedonia has been participating in with the European Union, with Brussels, and that’s reflected in the progress report for Macedonia and the recommendation, once again, by the European Commission that Macedonia should begin negotiations, begin accession talks toward membership – full membership in the European Union. And of course that’s very much a part of the U.S. policy as well, and our assistance, our diplomacy, has all been directed at helping Macedonia move in that direction on the path of full Euro-Atlantic integration.
QUESTION: Okay. And now on Albania and Kosovo, you touched upon the talks today in Brussels over Kosovo. My question is: Will the United States have an active role in these political talks? And on Albania, a little more specifics on the position of the U.S. on the progress report, which was positive for Albania but also on some conditions, and comments on the latest strike from the former prisoners – political prisoners in Albania that continues to this day.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, again, let me reiterate that we very much support the continuation of dialogue towards normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Dialogue is absolutely critical; there is no other option to dialogue. And so we very much support that. We’re very pleased to see the meetings that High Representative Catherine Ashton had today in Brussels. She noted that the meetings were conducted in a good and constructive atmosphere and that the parties had agreed to continue the dialogue for normalization of relations, and that they would meet again soon.
So we very much welcome that. We are very involved in this. I was on the phone with my European Union counterparts already twice today. We have almost daily contacts. Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton are frequently in touch on this subject, and the Secretary fully endorses the Ashton way forward and this process for normalization of relations that, of course, leads to better lives for all of the people in Serbia, in Kosovo, and of course, leads to both countries’ progress on their European progression. And we’ve seen that reflected in the progress reports from the European Commission both for Kosovo and for Serbia. And we will continue to remain very much engaged in that process, continuing to encourage both Kosovo and Serbia to give this full attention because it is so important to their future, and to continue working directly with the European Union on this.
In terms of your question on Albania, we, of course, reviewed the commission’s report on Albania as well and are pleased to see the general recommendation for Albania to get candidate status in the European Union. That reflects some of the progress that was made when I was in Albania. I stressed to the leaders there, as I stressed publicly, the importance of finding political consensus to move forward on some of the recommendations that the European Union had outlined – things that Albania needed to do to make progress in terms of its European prospective and the path toward the candidacy status, so I’m glad to see those are reflected.
There’s obviously a lot more to do, and I think it’s important that political leaders from across the spectrum put aside their differences to be constructive enough for the positive movement for the country as a whole. So candidacy status is an important milestone, but of course it is, then, just a first big step in terms of a commitment to a reform process necessary for the EU. And that commitment needs to be shown to start the accession negotiations, ultimately to become an EU member state. And we will continue to work with Albania through our assistance programs, through our diplomacy, to support them in that effort, again, coordinating very closely with our partners in the European Union.
You mentioned specifically --
QUESTION: The strike of prisoners.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Right. Right. I’d been following the issue of former political prisoners who are staging a hunger strike. Obviously, we respect the right to peacefully demonstrate, the right that should be shared by all citizens of Albania. We urge police and protesters to refrain from actions that would bring harm to themselves or to others, and we strongly encourage engagement between the government and the protesters – again, a dialogue to work towards a reasonable compromise that can resolve the issue peacefully.
We would urge all sides to refrain from personal attacks, political attacks. Some of that has already served to escalate tension and undermine the potential for dialogue on a resolution, and I think everybody should step back and try to avoid that and find a way to move forward and resolve these things peacefully. Ambassador Arvizu has spoken, using some of the same words I have just now, to make very clear our position on that, and we hope to see a peaceful resolution.
MODERATOR: And sir, we have a question from New York. New York, go ahead.
QUESTION: Thank you very much, Ambassador Reeker. Hi. How are you? Good to see you again. This is Erol Avdovic, Dnevni Avaz from Sarajevo Daily and the public press from New York. This is somehow – my question is somehow a continuation of the last conversation with the Assistant Secretary Gordon that we had here in New York. We were talking about the obstacles for Bosnia to join the NATO, and the yet again missed chance – the last missed chance. And I wonder – as a follow-up to the questions that we placed to Assistant Secretary Gordon, I wonder why did you somehow choose not to put more pressure or even finger point to Mr. Milorad Dodik, who is obviously one of the main – was one of the main obstacles in latest forwarding of Bosnia to the NATO pact. And we know that Mr. Dodik obviously said that he is going to go and grant the policy of Belgrade regarding that.
And I also wonder in that connection, are you concerned that this is now not only jeopardizing Bosnian chances for NATO, but also the strategic plans for NATO to go forward to the east? And if I may also one more, because I’m the only one here right now – just to comment, if you can, next week Mr. Dodik even promised that he is going to move with the parliamentary majority in the parliament of Bosnia and Herzegovina to push Mr. Zlatko Lagumdzija Foreign Minister to resign. Mr. Lagumdzija told us, back in summit in Chicago, that he is going to serve as a personal guarantor for Bosnia to advance to NATO. Your comments, please. Thank you.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, thank you for coming to the Foreign Press Center in New York and for raising Bosnia and Herzegovina. Obviously it’s a country about which we care deeply. We want to see a better future for all the citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina. The United States remains actively engaged, along with our European partners, to help Bosnia and Herzegovina achieve its stated goals, that is Euro-Atlantic integration. And that does include NATO membership as well as EU membership, and we’ve, of course, seen some real stalling along that path, which was disappointing to see.
With the elections now behind us – the local elections, which diverted attention, of course, over the last several months – it’s time for all of the political leaders to refocus their attention on the reform process, the steps needed to move forward, both on the NATO track and on the European Union track. We were disappointed, and we remain disappointed, that the political agreement for what’s known as defense property was not realized and has stalled Bosnia’s movement forward into the Membership Action Plan process for NATO.
You will recall discussions about that at Chicago. That’s certainly something that’s long overdue. NATO remains very committed to seeing Bosnia move forward on that track as a candidate country. But they need to move forward into this process and resolve the defense property question. There is a court ruling that may help in that regard, and once the properties of course are registered, Bosnia can move the next step forward into the Membership Action Plan.
A number of your questions, I think, actually are better posed to those individual politicians in Bosnia. I can’t speak on their behalf on what agendas they are following. What we want to do is support all of Bosnia and Herzegovina in overcoming the personal agendas, the focus and fixation on parties and party politics, where everybody begins to work for the good of the country. And the United States continues, of course, to firmly support Bosnia and Herzegovina’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and the Dayton Arrangements. There really is no alternative to Dayton. As a reminder, of course, that means one state, two entities, three constituent peoples. There’s a need to respond to (inaudible) decision. That’s an obligation that politicians need to undertake.
And of course, it goes then without saying that all the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina would be much better served if their politicians would spend less time pursuing their narrow personal and ethnic agendas, which only sows division, making excuses for why the country isn’t working, expecting everything to be solved by the international community, and spend more time finding practical solutions, using the help and assistance that the international community is there to provide, but to do something for themselves – leaders to do something for the citizens they represent and move forward.
So I think with the elections behind us, the final results soon to be announced, it is time to move forward and then see some progress. It is, of course, one day at a time, one week at a time. But the ability to do that is in the hands of the people of Bosnia and their leaders.
MODERATOR: We have a question over here on the right.
QUESTION: Prime Minister Dacic and Prime Minister Thaci just met together in Brussels, and before that, even shook hands for the first time. Do you consider that as major progress?
And my second question would be: Do you see the foreign policy of the new Serbian government as being changed for better or for the worse in comparison with the foreign policy of the earlier coalition?
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, as I said a bit earlier, we very much welcome the meetings that took place today in [Brussels]. I’ve seen the statements from High Representative Ashton about the two bilateral meetings that she had, and then a meeting that was joint, which as she described it, took place in her office in a good and constructive atmosphere. And just as Catherine Ashton has said, Secretary Clinton very much supports the continuation of this dialogue for normalization of relations and a resolution of differences. This is obviously a good step, and we’re pleased to see that the parties have agreed to do more of that.
As I said in my meetings in Belgrade in July, and Assistant Secretary Gordon reiterated when he visited Belgrade, we very much want to support, we do support and continue to support Serbia’s path towards EU membership. You’ll recall, of course, that earlier this year they were granted full candidate status, and now there is work to be done as outlined by the European Commission and member states, in terms of moving forward to the next stage, and that is beginning accession talks. So we very much will continue to support that, just as we will continue to support the dialogue.
We’ve had opportunities – again, most recently at UNGA, the UN General Assembly – to meet. Deputy Secretary Burns met with President Nikolic, and we had ongoing conversations. Our new Ambassador, Ambassador Michael Kirby in Belgrade has been, of course, already meeting with Prime Minister Dacic, with President Nikolic, and all of the key leaders in the new government. There is a great opportunity, we believe, now to move forward on this. You have a new government with a strong mandate and no elections to cloud and distract the future on the immediate horizon. It’s a real opportunity to move forward, to undertake the reforms, to continue with the dialogue, including implementation of the agreements that have already been reached, to improve the atmosphere and make real progress in this period.
And that will, of course, improve the atmosphere for economic growth and focus. When there is less tension, there is better opportunity for economic progress. That’s simply a fact. And of course, the entire European integration path, and why we support it, is because it leads to demonstrably a greater stability and greater prosperity. And I think that’s something that all the people of Serbia want. I know it’s something the people of Kosovo want. And of course, it remains a shared goal throughout the region.
MODERATOR: Why don’t we go to the back for a question, and then we’ll come back over here to the front.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Trouble-makers in the back row.
QUESTION: Absolutely. (Laughter.) Hi. My name is Ivica Puljic. I am from Al-Jazeera Balkans. I would like to go back to Bosnia. Could you be more specific, please? You said that it was big improvement last hundred years, but it is true in all of Balkans, especially for Bosnia.
But in the last two, three, four years in Bosnia is – you cannot see any big improvement. Can you be more specific with obstacles in smaller entity, of Republic of Srpska, and more specific in obstacles in large entity, the Federation of B and H? And any comment about that (inaudible) lost those elections? And of course I know that U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo is backing some – try to fix situation in Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Any comment please? Thank you so much.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Let me start with the beginning premise, going back to what I said earlier about where the Balkans are in terms of the continuum of history. Obviously, 100 years ago, they were very much enmeshed in what was known as and what continues to be known as the First Balkan War. In 1912 and 1913, you had the Second Balkan War, and in 1914 – you all realize we will soon celebrate the anniversary of the beginning of the First World War. That began in the Balkans. And the major overriding difference, I think, to remember is that 100 years ago, the people of the Balkans had no particular say in their own future. These wars were led – policies were led by sclerotic empires, aged monarchs who were playing great games in terms of history that we don’t need to get into.
A hundred years later, it’s the people of the Balkans, the citizens of each of these countries who live in democracies, who vote and have a say about their future and what they want for themselves, for their children, and their grandchildren. And they have spoken loudly and said they want peace, and they want to move forward on the paths of Euro-Atlantic integration broadly, because they can see how that has been the key to success in the rest of Europe.
This is a part of Europe not far from some of the major capitals of today’s Europe. And what we have seen is in the post-World War II era, it’s the European Union, the common market, the structures like NATO and other international organizations that have allowed countries to maintain their own identities and yet work together with their neighbors, not in warfare, but in pursuing common security and prosperity. So that gives you an outline and a structure.
Clearly, there are challenges that remain in Bosnia. I think it’s the people of Bosnia who would be the first to tell you that. They’re tired of stagnant economies; they’re tired of not being able to take full advantage of the resources, of the opportunity to work together to use the structures that they have. And in some cases, those structures are not fully functional.
I think we’ve long spoken in the United States, and certainly, if you ask just about anybody in Bosnia and Herzegovina about the need for changes in the federation in terms of reforms to make the federation government as well as all levels of government in Bosnia and Herzegovina more efficient, more functional. And we’re very eager to see that process begin. It really is a question of will and determination.
Ambassador Moon, as you noted, and our Embassy in Bosnia has, over the last several months, been urging individuals who speak to him – nongovernmental organizations and even politicians, leaders of political parties – to start a conversation about how they would like to see reforms in the federation. How could you reform the federation constitution to make it better, to better meet the needs of the people, to protect the rights of citizens? And we will continue to urge that conversation. We will use our resources, our ability to convene and support opportunity for people to come together. But yet they need to make specific proposals. They need to share their ideas and suggest how reforms can be taken, for instance, in the federation constitution, to make a better structure, a better governing situation more efficient to help the process move forward.
The European Union has outlined, of course, a clear set of steps that need to be taken in terms of Bosnia and Herzegovina moving forward as a single country on the European path. And it’s all there before the people; it just takes a determination, throwing aside the self-centered singular agenda to work together, to find compromises, to share ideas, and find ways to work forward. The international community, including the United States, stands ready to help through our Embassy in Sarajevo, our diplomatic presence, the engagement of those of us in Washington working with our partners in Europe through the EU and other countries to help the people of Bosnia move forward.
MODERATOR: Why don’t we go ahead here to the front, and then we’ll follow with a question from New York, which I know is waiting patiently as well.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Irina.
QUESTION: Irina Gelevska, Macedonian TV. I have to tell that. I have two questions, but I promise to ask short ones. Can you explain what you think about the remark that you’re working for any country in the Balkans not to be left behind in Euro-Atlantic integration? Because so much in Macedonia – we feel like we have been left behind for NATO and EU membership.
And can you comment, or would you like to comment – the reports in the Greek media last week that – they are basically saying that the Greek Government is under enormous pressure from Washington to settle down the name dispute.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, I think the United States has very likely been the greatest supporter of Macedonia since its independence, even prior to its independence. We’ve shared a great friendship, a great partnership. I’m very proud to have been involved with that, a part of that over much of my career, including my time there as Ambassador. Our assistance programs, of course, have provided well over a billion dollars in aid and programs to help Macedonia make the transition economically, socially, in terms of government from a part of communist Yugoslavia into an independent, democratic, free-market country.
And we very much support that, and we support the Euro-Atlantic aspirations that Macedonia has long aspired to. I don’t think anyone has done more to prepare Macedonia to help them along the way. And as NATO has said, Macedonia is ready to receive an invitation for NATO membership. We very much supported that effort, and we have continued to urge Macedonia and Greece to find a way forward. We’ve offered ideas and suggestions over many, many years on how we believe those countries can move forward, but ultimately, the two of them have to do it.
And so our message remains very much the same, very consistent, both to Athens and to Skopje on the need to find a solution as soon as possible. Active engagement is necessary. The United Nations offers, through the good offices of Ambassador Nimetz, a process for facilitation, an ongoing effort to settle this issue, which will, of course, allow Macedonia to immediately receive an invitation for NATO membership, and as the European Commission’s progress report highlights once again, help move them forward on that path. The Commission has recommended that Macedonia be able to begin accession negotiations. We very much support that. We have from the first time that recommendation was made by the European Commission. And we would very much like to see that go forward.
MODERATOR: Sure. Let’s go ahead back to New York. New York, thanks again for your patience.
QUESTION: You’re welcome. Ambassador Reeker, good seeing you. Halil Mula with RTV-21, Kosovo National Television. Yesterday, parliament of Kosovo adopted a resolution for good neighborly relations with Serbia. On the other side, though one would say or everyone would agree, EU is laying the red carpet for Serbia. Serbian leaders whom brought in the ’90s four wars to the Balkans do say loudly that between EU and Kosovo, we’ll choose Kosovo. Northern part of Kosovo, the international community failed to integrate between Kosovo for 13 years, still under Serbia.
What will – what is U.S. impact on dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo? What will happen to the north in Kosovo? Will it be anything more than Ahtisaari’s plan?
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks. I think we covered a lot of that in earlier questions from here in Washington. You did note at the beginning of your question the resolution that was passed yesterday in Kosovo’s assembly. We welcome that, the resolution in support of dialogue, in support of good neighborly relations, which is absolutely vital between Kosovo and Serbia, of course between and among all the countries of the region.
As I said, we very much welcome the meetings that took place today in Brussels, and in that sense, the Kosovo assembly resolution was extremely well-timed, demonstrating that the Assembly--elected representatives of the citizens, the people of Kosovo--endorse and support this effort, as do we very much as the way forward. Dialogue is key and critical in dealing with all kinds of issues, and that includes the north.
As you know, the United States is firmly committed to the independence, the sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of Kosovo. That is very clear. We do remain very much engaged, as I said before, with the European Union in the process of dialogue. Secretary Clinton and Lady Ashton are very much in touch on how to move this process forward and support that facilitation. There are lots of challenges as part of this, but they are challenges that can be overcome.
And I think the EU, certainly through the European Commission, and its reports last week demonstrated, that there is a European path both for Kosovo and for Serbia. And neither country should view their European path through the path of the other. There are, of course, things that need to be done, and the EC has been very clear about that. Normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is critical in that effort. And it will improve the lives of people and the opportunities for greater prosperity, the opportunity to focus resources and attention on things like economy, on attracting foreign investment, which occurs when you have greater stability, and when you move along in your Atlantic integration.
So that’s very much the underpinning of why this is in the interest of both countries and why we very much support that. We have been strong supporters of a resolution to move forward – for both countries to move forward. We made very clear to Belgrade and to Serbia we want to see them move forward. We made very clear to Kosovo, as we did when I attended the end of supervised independence in September, that there are great challenges, but great opportunities for Kosovo.
Again, this is about all the people of the entire region looking at what other countries in Europe did after great tensions, after great conflicts, how they were able to use structures, institutions like the European Union to put aside some of those differences and work for a better common good. That’s what both countries have said they want, that’s what the United States very much supports, and we’ll continue to do that in partnership with our European colleagues.
MODERATOR: I think we have time for one or two more questions. We’ll go over here on the left side.
QUESTION: Cvetin Cilimanov. Well, again, there’s the impression in Macedonia and both in – here in the U.S. and think tanks thinks we should devote time to this issue, to the main issue that – this economic crisis in Greece which is preventing greater movement, greater focus on the Greek side. There was an open invitation from the Macedonian side for a meeting at the highest level, but this has not happened.
And I would like to take this a bit broader. We’ve seen now in Greece levels of nationalism, of hatred toward immigrants, toward different countries, open attacks, which was normally reserved only for Macedonia. Now it’s becoming – while we were in UNGA in New York, there was a big ruckus over neo-Nazi opening – a chapter opening right there in New York, just across the United Nations. And the U.S. has helped the Balkan countries, which are in your portfolio, overcome issues like hate speech, like – and do you see that there is need for greater U.S. involvement? Here we ask, of course, over the name issue, but there is a great growing fear in my impression that this is a wider issue, a wider problem within Greece, that this needs to be contained.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Look, I think the issue has remained – the name issue has been pretty much the same issue from the time it began. There’s always somebody saying that this is a new angle, this is something different, that broader concerns have changed the dynamic. It’s a pretty basic issue, and the two countries can sit down and resolve it. If you look at the issues that have faced the world, faced the region, including some of the economic challenges that you mentioned today, they can be overcome, and they have been overcome, with the dedication, with a focus on finding solutions that involve compromise – it’s not a bad word – that do not involve esoteric concepts of identity or anything else.
And our position has always been the same, that there’s a solution out there. We’ve spoken – I personally have spoken numerous times over the years, laying out options and opportunities. We have offered our support and assistance to both sides. You have the good offices of the UN process and Ambassador Nimetz to do that, and it’s about, again, dialogue, working to find a solution that takes a particular level of commitment and will and deciding what your priorities are. And those are decisions that cannot be made by the United States or by any external factor; it’s for the two countries to decide where the priority lays. If you have a goal, how do you go about achieving it? Not rocket science, but it takes definitely dedication, leadership, and commitment.
MODERATOR: I think we’ve got a question in the back, so we’ll go there. And then if we have time, hopefully we’ll – we can get one last question up here.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Sure. I think we did everybody.
QUESTION: Thank you. Ambassador, you mentioned the European Commission latest report. After that review was released, we heard very serious warnings from Germany that Croatia will not be ready to join the EU on July – yes, July of 2013. Are you worried for Croatia and its future regarding the EU membership at all?
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Well, it’s curious you bring that up, because I heard no warnings from the Government of Germany to that effect at all, and that’s what I listen to – is what the European Union has said in terms of the commission’s progress reports – which are clear and for all to see – and official statements from governments.
The EU’s report for Croatia was generally positive, an acknowledgement that Croatia meets the benchmarks for EU accession, generally on the right track. We certainly agree with both of those assessments. It was a useful tool, as these reports are, in terms of giving Croatia some guidance on areas where action could be taken to be ready to take full advantage of EU membership.
Obviously, the government still needs to show some continued progress in meeting EU commitments in the monitoring reports. And, of course, it’s important to take bold steps on the economy and the poor investment climate. These are things that our Ambassador in Croatia has spoken about, we’ve spoken about, Croatia’s own politicians and other citizens have spoken about. We are delighted that Croatia will become the EU’s newest member next year. And we look forward to seeing that in July of 2013.
MODERATOR: All right. Let’s go to --
AMBASSADOR REEKER: My friend here.
QUESTION: I’m Bratislav Djorojevic from Voice of America Serbian Service. I have a question regarding the latest poll in Serbia – I don’t know if you’ve heard about it. It’s the same poll that showed that less people are inclined toward joining European Union, but it also says that 43 percent of people in Serbia think that the U.S. is the biggest enemy Serbia has in the world. So could you comment on both of the facts?
AMBASSADOR REEKER: I haven’t seen that poll. There are an awful lot of polls in the world these days, including here in the U.S. There seem to be polls every day. Look, we have a very robust relationship with Serbia. We are, this year, commemorating 130 years of diplomatic relations with Serbia, which is really quite remarkable, if you think about it. We talked a little about the historical context of the Balkan region and where we were 100 years ago. Well, 30 years before that – 30 years before the Balkan wars – we already had a diplomatic relationship between the United States and Serbia. We’ve had differences in that period; Serbia has certainly had differences--it’s gone through all kinds of different forms of government, of structures, different flags, different countries.
And yet today, I think the Republic of Serbia has a great opportunity to overcome many of these things in the past, to use the past as simply perspective and to look forward, which is what we do in our relationship with Serbia, to look forward to Serbia’s integration into EU. We already spoke about the fact that this year, Serbia gained candidacy status. That’s a huge step. Serbia just had elections in the late spring in May, elections that were considered to be extremely well run, and a transition of power, which was without fault. This is sort of an untold story that might not have been the case in Serbia even just a few years ago.
So I think there’s a lot to look at positively. Yes, people are concerned, I think most of all about the economy, as they are throughout the region, throughout Europe, all around the world, including here in the United States. We are facing a particular period of economic challenge. We can overcome that by working together, by using models from the past. We’ve seen what European economic unity has done – economic union in terms of growth levels that would have been unheard of, levels of prosperity that could not be expected without working together.
This is why I think for those who really step back and think about it, the European perspective remains the best way forward and remains Serbia’s official policy. I was pleased to see that reiterated again today. It was certainly reiterated in the meetings that I had back in July with the newly elected leaders in Belgrade. It was reiterated in our bilateral meetings last month in New York that Serbia remains dedicated towards the European path. And we support that fully with our assistance program, with our diplomacy, with our support for the dialogue that the European Union is facilitating.
All of this is steps in the right direction, and I think the best way forward is to not let the ghosts of the past distract and cloud the discourse, and instead focus on a positive agenda. It’s not easy. There are a lot of challenges that can be overcome, but with dedicated leadership, with the support of the international community, I think we can see that. And certainly, that remains our goal, and our friendship with Serbia is very much a part of it.
MODERATOR: I think we might have time for one last question from New York, and then we’ll wrap up.
QUESTION: Thank you very much. Mr. Reeker, just at the end, I wouldn’t go very in detail, but just to be brief, would you comment on the European Union getting Nobel Peace Prize, bearing in mind of those Euro skeptics, that some would say that they had indeed Balkans (inaudible) in their backyard in the past 20 years, and they didn’t do enough, as much as the United States did, as many people that I would – that I know that would say.
And also, do you comment on the last statement of Mr. – President of Serbia Mr. Nikolic, who said in Rome – again, actually denied genocide in Srebrenica? Thank you.
AMBASSADOR REEKER: Thanks for mentioning the Nobel Peace Prize, because I was delighted to see that. As somebody who works very closely professionally and very personally with colleagues in the European Union, I congratulated them because, as the Nobel Committee made very clear, the European Union has made a tremendous difference for peace. We’ve talked throughout this engagement today about the history of Europe and the region and the perspectives of it, and why is the European model successful? Why is the European Union given the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, it has provided for countries in Europe – and what are countries? Countries are about people, for millions and millions of citizens, now a market of 500 million in Europe – a level of peace for decades, for generations, which was unprecedented in European history and a level of prosperity, despite the current challenges that we face and will overcome, that is also unprecedented.
It’s a fact, I think, that European integration that brings lasting peace and prosperity to Europe is very much the powerful vision that propelled the EU – its formation in the first years and decades after the Second World War. And I think this vision still resonates; it’s still important for the current generation. With all the challenges that they have, it’s just a need to reinvigorate that, and I think that was part of the statement from the Nobel Committee, that the EU is a powerful force. You will note in the Nobel Committee’s remarks that they highlighted the role that the EU has played in terms of giving a perspective, a European perspective, to the countries of South Central Europe, the countries of the Western Balkans. And that’s a vision that, of course, we share very much from the United States.
On your last question about Srebrenica, I think you hear rhetoric all the time, you hear different statements and interpretation. The facts are the facts, and what we are focused on is supporting the citizens of Srebrenica, honoring those who were killed in the genocide that took place there, but also focusing on the future of the community.
In 2004, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia made a ruling: Crimes committed against Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica were genocide. That is simply a fact. It cannot be denied. Any attempt to deny that cannot change the fundamental truth. And so I think we shouldn’t get caught up in the rhetoric or people’s different interpretations of words. That’s simply a fact. And what we need now is to support the citizens, to help them move forward, to support that community, while honoring those who were killed.
But we can honor them best by making the future better for all of the people that live in Srebrenica and Bosnia and Herzegovina, throughout the broader region in Europe, and truly, around the world.
So that seems like a good spot to end. Thank you all. Have a great weekend, and we’ll look forward to doing this again. See you here or out in the region. Thanks.
MODERATOR: Thank you all very much.
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