Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with RTK

Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with RTK, December 6, 2018


RTK: Ambassador Kosnett, welcome.

AMB: Thank you. It is a great honor and privilege to return to Kosovo as the Ambassador of the United States.

RTK: First of all, let me express our condolences to you upon the passing of President George H. W. Bush.

AMB: Thank you for that Xhevdet. I had the privilege of meeting President Bush only once, many years ago, and I feel the same way that everyone in my country does. He was a great leader, a man of honor who has earned his place in history, and I know that he was also a great friend of Kosovo.

RTK: A great supporter to Kosovo too. Thank you. Ambassador, Kosovo has changed since you have worked here in 2003. At this point where Kosovo stands, it had huge support from the US. Do you think that Kosovo could still count on U.S. policy?

AMB: Absolutely. The United States has considered Kosovo to be a great success story. We have said that it’s a success story for the United States, but most importantly it’s a success story for the people of Kosovo. I can tell you that in the months I spent in Washington preparing for this assignment, I met with many people in the government, in Congress, as well as outside the government, and I think America’s commitment to Kosovo’s future is unshakeable. In fact, I would say, that it is an area where there is complete consensus between Republicans and Democrats—between the government, the administration and the Congress. Everybody feels that Kosovo is a very close friend of the United States and we are deeply committed to supporting Kosovo.

RTK: Ambassador, in what fields will your commitment be focused with your mandate in Kosovo?

AMB: There are a lot of issues where the Embassy will continue to work very closely with our Kosovo friends. Economic security is critical in foreign investment and job creation. We are also focused on rule of law and countering corruption, which remains a very high priority for us. Then there is the issue of security. Security has many meanings and many aspects. Certainly, at the top of the agenda is supporting the efforts of leaders in Kosovo and in Serbia to find a way forward on the Dialogue, to achieve a mutually beneficial solution that will help both governments’ prosperity and security in the future. Also in terms of security, we continue to work very closely with Kosovo on counter-terrorism, countering violent extremism—a range of security related issues.

RTK: How up, Ambassador, is Kosovo ranked in U.S. foreign affairs today?

AMB: It is a very high priority. In fact, I would say that the current administration in Washington is more interested in supporting, not just Kosovo but also progress in the Balkan region, than I have seen in many years. This is an administration that looks at longstanding problems and says: we need to shake things up—we need to find a way forward.

RTK: Ambassador, Kosovo is facing new challenges now, as we said, mostly with relations with Serbia. There have been discussions between two states in Brussels. Not much progress, sometimes with the tensions as we are talking now. These days they are probably facing the lowest point of their relations, since after the start of dialogue. The Government of Kosovo decided to come to a decision that Serbian goods must pay 100% of taxes in order to enter Kosovo. What is your opinion when it comes to this decision?

AMB: This would be a good time for me to remind your viewers that I have been back in Kosovo for less than a week, so at this point I want to listen to lots of people and get their input before I start making a lot of big declarations. Having said that, I do believe, and my government believes, that this is a critical moment in the Dialogue process. That it is important for Kosovo and Serbia to approach this process in a spirit of cooperation. I understand the challenges of that—I know the country’s history, but in a spirit of cooperation and creativity to find a way forward. When we speak of the Dialogue in Washington, we’re talking about a comprehensive discussion of all the issues that have separated the two countries for many years. What we need to see is a process that ends with agreement that benefits both countries.

We all negotiate in our daily lives. We negotiate with our families, with our neighbors, business people negotiate: it is not only governments and diplomats that negotiate. But one thing that I think that is critical to a successful negotiation is that it has to be beneficial to both parties so that both parties have an incentive to fulfill their obligations, to maintain the agreement, to move forward. Any agreement between Kosovo and Serbia needs to be durable, it needs to be sustainable, and it needs to, again, to benefit both countries.  I think sometimes people enter into negotiations in the spirit that, I am going to win this negotiation—I’m going to defeat the other side. When you do that, it is really, very hard to have the sort of trust that is necessary to see that a negotiation is successfully implemented. Last point there, when we speak about the implementation of agreements, the United States is deeply focused on the future of Kosovo, but also on stability in the entire Balkan region. We have every reason to want to stay by your side to make sure that if governments make commitments, they abide by them. We are not just going to applaud while a piece of paper is signed and then move on to the next crisis.

RTK: The government of Kosovo took this measure Mr. Ambassador, as I said, after the failure of entering Interpol, but they also say it is a reflection of Serbia’s ongoing obstructions towards Pristina, and because of Belgrade not respecting the earlier signed agreements.

AMB: I think that both governments have taken steps to show that they have levers—that they have tools they can use against the other side. Both governments have shown that we can be tough—we can stand up for ourselves. Frankly, what I’d rather see, not a competition to see who can be toughest, but a competition to see who can be most creative and most forward-looking in trying to find a way forward. I think it is very common in negotiations to hit obstacles, to reach a difficult stage, and then the two parties will retreat to their corners and think about what to do next. I know that some people are concerned that the Dialogue process is at a tough stage—this is pretty normal in negotiations. You go forward, you take a step back, you go forward again. I do think it is important that the negotiating strategy and negotiating position of Kosovo reflect a wide range of political opinion and a wide range of popular opinion. In that regard, and I am sure we’ll come back to this, the United States thinks it’s important that every voice in Kosovo is heard. That members of all communities, all political parties, women as well as men, have a stake in the future of the country and feel that their voice is heard and respected.

RTK: Lately in Kosovo there have been words, Ambassador, about the possible final agreement between Pristina and Belgrade. In one side we have President’s commitment to reach the final agreement with Serbia with possible, as he says, border correction. In the other hand political opposition that strongly disagree about anything that has to do with the border. The Dialogue with Serbia seems like it is stopped for now, as we said, or there is tension.  How do you think they could find a political will to continue discussions? Do you think that a future agreement between these two countries might also touch the border issue?

AMB: I think some people have the misunderstanding that the United States has been pressing for a shift to the border or an exchange of territory. As my superiors in Washington have tried to make clear: what we are interested in is an agreement that is negotiated in good faith by the two sides.  The United State does not have any preconceptions about what a comprehensive Dialogue agreement might entail. It might be that the two sides decide – honestly in good faith – to make an adjustment to the border. They may very well decide not to, and believe me, I understand the depth of concern, the historical reasons why adjusting the border is very complicated. And again, I want to emphasize, my government is not pushing for that. We do not necessarily see that as a key to the dialogue. I think that a great deal of discussion of the Dialogue has focused on that. I think discussion of the border is only one aspect of the wide range of discussion that has to take place between the two countries. It has also has to touch on economic cooperation, security, culture, education, justice, very much justice – the wide range of issues that the two governments need to speak about, and it is important not to fixate on only one aspect of the problem.

RTK: Just to clarify this, Ambassador. There had also been voices, as we said, about a territorial exchange between two parts. Will this be acceptable for the United State, if the two countries decide to do that?

AMB: So, we have tried to make clear that we do not have any preconceptions. We are not saying that certain issues should not be discussed and we are not saying that certain outcomes are required. Serbia and Kosovo are the negotiating partners. These are two sovereign, independent nations. We are always going to support Kosovo. By support Kosovo, I do not mean that we are going to blindly agree to any idea that comes out of the government in Pristina. But, we are going to support Kosovo in the effort to establish peace, prosperity, justice in the country and in the region. We do not see those goals as contradictory to a broader goal – wanting the same things for other countries in the region. I think it is important to emphasize that we are standing by to support the parties to come to a sustainable, mutually beneficial conclusion, but we are not writing the script.

RTK: Right. Ambassador, people are getting tired of this situation. Prolonged discussions seem to never end. How long do you think that this situation should continue for?

AMB:  I would be reluctant to suggest any sort of timeline or deadline for the discussion, but I do think that time is of the essence, that it is important to move forward as quickly as possible, and frankly, that’s because – as I said earlier – my government is really focused on making progress in the region now. You have our full attention, our full support. It is a great opportunity and I don’t think that anybody, either side, or the people of either country has anything to gain by delaying a process of negotiation. I think that the time to do anything is usually right now.

RTK:  Kosovo’s government and population seem also to be frustrated from the EU stand towards Pristina. They have been promised visa liberalization and now, suddenly, the EU, as we saw, is not prepared for such a decision. Do you think that this has increased tensions in Kosovo? Young population that cannot move freely like others in Europe.

AMB:  I do think that the frustration over the current status of visa liberalization is an indication that people of Kosovo want to strengthen their ties to the West. That is where they see their future. We certainly support that, we agree with that. We think that closer ties between Kosovo and the European Union is something that is very much in the interest of the United States, as well as the people of Kosovo. I have been struck in the short time I have been back by the amazing young people that I’m meeting. People with education, with skills, with a very broad European and global perspective who have an enormous amount to contribute to their own country and to the world. They want to be able to do that here, but also in other countries. I suspect that the more that young people in Kosovo are able to travel, to study, to work in other countries, and then in many cases to come back to Kosovo to contribute here – that will be wonderful for the country. I am not going to get into what is the right timing for visa liberalization and so on, but I am encouraged that people in this country look to the West and look to the European Union.

RTK: What is your opinion about Kosovo Serbs? Let’s talk about them a little, as we talked about Kosovo and Serbia relations. We also have Serbian population, in Kosovo.  They seem to be a part, every time, of Kosovo’s government, but they are always influenced by Belgrade. Do you think this help Kosovo’s Serb to build their future here, in Kosovo?

AMB: I think it is important for everyone in the country – every community in the country to feel that it is their country and that they have a future here and that their voices are heard and they’re role is respected. You know, America like Kosovo is a very diverse country. We have people from all religions, different ethnic groups, different races and a very complicated history, as people know. We do not have all the answers for how people should live in a multi-ethnic society. I think we have gotten better at asking the questions – at honestly talking about our history and understanding its necessary to examine a country’s history, in order to move forward into the future. And, in that regard I’d like to say that I think that it is important that all of the members of all of the minority groups feel that they have a voice and that they are equal participants in the country. That is an area where I look forward to making friends and hearing perspectives from all communities.

RTK: Do you thing that they should look more towards Pristina rather than Belgrade so that this way they might feel that this is their country?

AMB: I think this is kind of circular. The more comfortable people feel, the more they feel like their voice matters, like this truly is their country, the less they might take their cues from outside.

RTK: Kosovo’s institutions are preparing to give to KSF – a hot topic, these days –a functional army mandate. Does Washington support this step?

AMB: Washington has consistently supported the development of the KSF and the development of the KSF into Armed Forces. The United States has invested a lot of money; we have spent time on training; we’ve done exchanges between KSF and U.S. military. We think that the KSF‘s evolution into Kosovo Armed Forces is a positive step and that it is only natural for Kosovo as a sovereign, independent country to have a self-defense capability. Also, Kosovo’s leaders have talked about how the Kosovo Armed Forces could participate in peace-keeping operations overseas. That Kosovo has reached the point where instead of only being a consumer of international security that it can contribute to it. This is all welcome. Now, it is long process. I know that people – some people in neighboring countries have fixated on a certain date that is coming up very soon and have expressed concerns that the evolution of the KSF into the Armed Forces could have negative implications for security. What I will say about that is: this is a process that will take many years. That Kosovo has every reason, every right to have a self–defense capability. The most important point I want to leave you with is if there are people who genuinely believe that Kosovo’s Police, Security Forces, Armed Forces—with any label—pose a threat to regional security, I think that’s another indicator of the importance of Dialogue. I think that it is important for people in both countries to understand the perspective of the other side. Because when you are not communicating, all sorts of fears will rise to the surface and people always fear what they do not understand.

RTK: Do you agree that Kosovo government can pass the law on 14th – let’s say they mentioned the date of December – about the transforming the KSF into Army? It takes time as they say, it’s going to take 10 years for the proper Army to be formed.

AMB: That’s exactly the point, Xhevdet. Whether they pass this law or change the patches on their shoulders of the personnel on a certain date, is not the most important thing. What’s important is that it’ll be a long, sustainable process and, moreover, that as the Armed Forces are established – which again, is a long process—that it be multiethnic. It is important for members of the Serb community and other communities to participate in a big way in the Armed Forces as they have in the KSF and in the Police. Because, this is an experience that we’ve had in my country, that it’s important for the people in the community to see that the people in uniform represent them and not just some outside force.

RTK:  How can economic relations between Kosovo and U.S. improve?  Do you think that Kosovo can be a suitable place for U.S. investments, for companies to invest in? Did you ever think if you could contribute in this field?

AMB: I think that encouraging American investment is a very high priority for the U.S. Embassy and for the U.S. Government. We have seen some small-scale investment already.  It is been very important. You see these American food franchises around the country now and you say: ok, that is great, people enjoy that, I enjoy it. It is fairly small-scale, but American businesses watch to see what the food franchises are doing because, the food franchises are famous for doing very careful research on a country before they enter a market. When companies see – oh, Domino’s, famous Famiglia, Kentucky are in Kosovo, that moves Kosovo closer to the top in their planning. That is important. We support the Counter Global proposal for a new power plant, which, we think, will have enormous benefits, not just for the environment, but also for economic stability and development.

Let me put it this way: when we speak of the different areas where our countries cooperate; when we speak of regional stability; when we speak of rule of law and anti-corruption; when we speak of economic development, these different areas are all closely intertwined.  American companies want to see legal system where everybody is treated equally. American companies want to know that if they get into dispute with a local partner, for example, that they would be treated fairly. American companies spend a lot of attention on looking at what we call risk analysis. They look at the regional stability and they are sometimes reluctant to invest in a country where they see ethnic tensions, or tensions between the country and its neighbors. I am completely confident that as Kosovo and Serbia improve relations; move towards normalization; recognition; towards respectful, neighborly relations; as Kosovo continues not just to pass laws on anti-corruption which is important and which I applaud, but is able to implement them fairly and consistently—then American companies and other companies will see Kosovo as an increasingly attractive location to invest.

RTK: Ambassador Kosnett, thank you very much for being with us.

AMB: It’s my great pleasure. It’s good to be back.