Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with Koha Ditore

Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with Koha Ditore, December 2, 2019

Koha Ditore: After nearly two months, the elections are finally certified.  Vetëvendosje and LDK have announced an agreement for coalition.  What do you expect from the new government?  What are the main challenges for the government?

Ambassador Kosnett:  I think this is a very exciting time in Kosovo, and it’s clear that on October 6th people voted for change.  I’ve had many meetings with the leadership of Vetëvendosje and LDK—I think they are committed to building a government that represents all the people of Kosovo, that is focused on the problems of ordinary people and I have to say it’s a very exciting time for the country.  And I think we should see a lot of progress in 2020.

Koha Ditore: One of the first duties is to resume the dialogue with Serbia.  What approach do you expect Kosovo to have in this process?

Ambassador Kosnett:  Let me put that in a broader context, if I may.  The U.S. government speaks of three key priorities for Kosovo and our efforts to support the people of Kosovo: peace, justice and prosperity.  When we talk about justice, that refers to anti-corruption which has been a key issue in the campaign, but also making sure that the rights of all the people of Kosovo are respected regardless of their community, regardless of their gender, their orientation, and so on.  So, we take a very broad view of what we mean by justice.  Prosperity means economic development, economic opportunity for young people who frequently feel frustrated that no matter how qualified they are for a job, if they don’t have the right connections, then their opportunities are limited.  And then we talk about peace—and when we talk about peace, we mean both improved relations among the communities within Kosovo, but also better relations between Kosovo and its neighbors, not only Serbia, but Serbia certainly is the one that’s at the top of the list.  And to dialogue specifically, it’s important for me to emphasize the U.S. view that progress on relations with Serbia is connected to the opportunity, for economic opportunity, and opportunities for better justice and equal opportunity in the country as a whole.  So, these three issues: peace, justice, prosperity are all tightly connected.  Ok, that was a very long answer.

Koha Ditore: We have seen that there have been much discussions about possible final agreement with Serbia.  You see that as achievable within next year?

Ambassador Kosnett: I do see it as achievable within the next year.  My government is focused not only on getting the governments of Serbia and Kosovo back to the negotiating table, but also in ensuring conditions for successful completion of a comprehensive agreement.  In other words, getting to the finish line as well as the start line.  I believe that people in both countries will benefit greatly from these improved relations.  At the same time, we think it’s important for Kosovo to meet as an equal with all the other countries in the region to chart a course towards prosperity and peace for all the countries in the Western Balkans.  For example, there’s been talk of a mini-Schengen arrangement.  Our view on this is that Kosovo is being invited to the next mini-Schengen talks as an equal.  Government should go—send a delegation. If there are elements of the proposals that Kosovo doesn’t like, then Kosovo should say so, should argue at the table, should negotiate as an equal with the other countries.  Maybe the mini-Schengen arrangement will evolve in part because Kosovo is helping to shape it.  But I think those people who are saying Kosovo should not even bother to participate in the process are missing a big opportunity.  Same thing with the dialogue: the government of Kosovo should go and sit down across the table from the government of Serbia and strongly argue its position and try to reach an agreement that is mutually beneficial.

Koha Ditore: But the final agreement is said to be compromises?  What compromises do you think are realistic in this process?

Ambassador Kosnett: First of all, let me remind your readers that the United States is not a party to the negotiations.  The negotiation is between Serbia and Kosovo.  The United States, like your Western European friends and neighbors, wants to be helpful to the process. We want to help ensure that the parties will stand by any promises that they make.  I would rather not go into great detail with regard to hypotheticals about what will happen. I will say that, as a professional diplomat, I think it’s important that the negotiators be free to discuss everything, that there not be preconditions before the delegations sit down at the table. So, in that regard we think it’s important that Kosovo suspend the tariff. We think it’s important that Serbia suspend its de-recognition campaign, and then people can talk about these issues at the table.

Koha Ditore: You mentioned the tariffs. Both LDK and VV have said they will remove the tariffs on Serbian products, and instead impose full reciprocity with Serbia. Do you see this as a positive move?

Ambassador Kosnett: I think that their commitment to suspend the tariff is definitely a positive move. With regard to reciprocity, our view is that those are issues that should be decided at the table. Frankly, a positive outcome for us is not Kosovo adding reciprocal non-tariff barriers – it is effectively negotiating so Serbia removes the barriers to trade. We would like to see fewer barriers and more openness, more cooperation on trade, investment, on missing persons issues, on the range of issues that had been a concern for both countries for twenty years.

Koha Ditore: But what if the deal is not reached? What would be the consequences for Kosovo in this case, if there is no agreement?

Ambassador Kosnett: I think that reaching an agreement will have great positive implications for Kosovo’s prosperity, for Kosovo’s place within Europe. The status quo is really not tenable. As Matt Palmer, our Special Representative for the Western Balkans said when he was in Kosovo recently, the failure to move the dialogue forward has not helped Kosovo. It has not helped Kosovo’s economy, it has not helped its position in the world. Again, I think that a comprehensive agreement with Serbia will open the door for foreign investment, it will create new economic opportunities for people here, and it’s not just something that matters to the international community.  The dialogue was not at the top of the agenda during the campaign, I understand that, but we don’t see it as a distraction for the new government from fulfilling its promises about domestic issues. We think that it’s necessary to have progress on domestic and international issues at the same time.

Koha Ditore: But, so far, we have seen that there was lack of unity among political parties and institutions regarding the final outcome of dialogue. While President favored border correction, parties generally were against this idea. Do you see the next government being able to overcome these differences and build a consensus?

Ambassador Kosnett: I am optimistic that both the parties that are part of the government, and parties that are in opposition, will put the good of the country, will put the good of the people of Kosovo first. This is a time, this is a moment for everyone in the political world – whether they are in government or in opposition – to come together in a spirit of national unity and think about the ordinary citizen and what improved relations with Kosovo’s neighbors will mean for ordinary citizens of Kosovo.

Koha Ditore: Are there any differences between the European Union and the United States regarding dialogue? And, when we are here: does U.S. support border changes?

Ambassador Kosnett:  I think that the European Union and the United States are firmly committed to supporting the Government and people of Kosovo and Serbia to improve relations, to find their way forward, that hasn’t changed. This is something that we will be in close coordination, close consultation with our Western European friends as the EU develops its policies in the future. As you know there have been changes at the top of the European Union’s foreign policy structures.  In terms of land swap, border change, I think that the U.S. position on this has not been well understood and I’ll try to make it clear. Some officials of the U.S. administration, over the past year or two, have said that if Kosovo and Serbia agree on a comprehensive agreement that involved some adjustment to the border, we take a look at it–we would not reject it out of hand. People have misinterpreted that to imagine that the Americans have been actively pushing for some big border change. That was never the case. Moreover, our position has been that any agreement between Kosovo and Serbia has to be acceptable to the people of both countries not just to a few politicians. I think it’s pretty clear that there is very little support in Kosovo for a massive, dramatic exchange of land or change on the borders—I mean it’s pretty clear that that’s the case now. Is it possible that Kosovo and Serbia, as part of a broader agreement, would look at border demarcation—at some changes?  Yeah, it’s possible, but that’s a question I think for officials of the two governments looking forward—whether or not they expect that there will be some discussion of land in the future.

Koha Ditore: Sometimes there has been criticism that Kosovo’s leaders are making decisions under pressure. Do you think, is Kosovo ready to take its own decisions not to be subject of any international pressure?

Ambassador Kosnett:  I think that the leaders and people of Kosovo are quite capable of inventing their own future—of finding a path forward. At the same time, naturally, my government and other governments in the region are heavily invested in Kosovo’s future. We wouldn’t be having this interview if you thought that American voices didn’t matter, right? So, we will continue to do what we can to support both sides. But I think you used the word pressure in your question, and I don’t think—that’s not how I see it.  Do we make our positions clear? Sure, partly because many people are interested in hearing what the U.S. government and other governments have to say. I would like to emphasize that people sometimes think that certain issues are of interest to the international community don’t matter to the people of Kosovo. We often view it differently and dialogue is the best example.  Many people think—they don’t see—many people don’t see how improved relations with Serbia or other neighbors will affect their lives and we do think that that’s important to ordinary citizens, that it will create new opportunities for everybody. Of course, there is suspicion and mistrust but if the governments of Serbia and Kosovo can negotiate an agreement that is in the interests of the citizens of both countries then they will have an incentive to make it stick, and my country will be there to help ensure that everybody keeps their promises.

Koha Ditore: The candidate for Prime Minister Albin Kurti has ruled out the possibility to consider the Serbian List as a partner in government, although he will fulfill the constitutional obligation for a minister from this party. How do you comment on this?

Ambassador Kosnett:  I think Mr. Kurti is well aware that his responsibilities as Prime Minister are quite different than the role one plays as an opposition leader, and Mr. Kurti understands the Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo.  I think he’s realistic and knows that it will not be possible to govern without listening to the voices of members of the Serbian community and the fact is Srpska List represents not every last individual—of course, not every Serb citizen of Kosovo is a fan of Srpska List—but it’s a very important voice. I don’t think it’s realistic to speak about trying to govern this country without abiding by the Constitutional rules on the role of minorities and without accepting the political realities of Srpska List.

Koha Ditore:  And my two last questions, corruption and organized crime continue to be a concern for Kosovo society. The future VV-LDK government has announced aggressive steps against corruption and crime. Do you support new measures?

Ambassador Kosnett: We absolutely support strong measures against corruption, both in government and outside of government.  Remember the new government hasn’t taken office yet—it’s natural over time their specific policies are going to evolve.  I have great faith in Kosovo’s judicial institutions, in the police.  I think the people of Kosovo, regardless of their political views, feel strongly that corruption is holding this country back. Our embassy—I’ve personally been quite vocal on that topic in the year that I’ve been here, and we will continue to do so.  We think that shining a light into the dark corners of any country is critical to a healthy future.

Koha Ditore:  The Special Court has increased the number of invitations for former KLA members, while the first indictments will be announced soon. But there are some voices in Kosovo asking the new government to revise the mandate of this court. What is your comment about this?

Ambassador Kosnett:  Two years ago, when there was a move to abrogate the Special Court, my predecessor and friend Greg Delawie said that that was a betrayal of the United States. I agree with that, but in addition I think that any move to weaken or eliminate the court is a betrayal of all the victims of all communities who deserve justice for the crimes that took place here twenty years ago. I am well aware of the history of Kosovo and the region.  I know that some people are frustrated and resentful about the Special Court’s mandate. I don’t think the answer is to reduce its effectiveness, or not to investigate or not to seek justice where it’s possible. We should be seeking more justice for victims, not less. I am confident that the Special Court will continue to do its job and seek justice within its mandate.

Koha Ditore: Thank you Mr. Ambassador, thank you for the visit and the interview.

Ambassador Kosnett: Thank you very much, it’s been a pleasure.