Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview with Radio Kontakt Plus, March 29, 2019
Radio Kontakt Plus (RKP): Mr. Kosnett, in the first place, hello and welcome.
Ambassador Kosnett (AMB): Thank you Jelena. It is a great pleasure to be here in Mitrovica North.
RKP: Since we are talking about Mitrovica North, of course, political issues are always in the first place. When do you expect the Dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina to continue?
AMB: I can’t make a prediction with regard to when the next formal session might be. I do want to say that my government is working intensively with the governments of Kosovo and Serbia in order to find a way forward, to move the process forward as quickly as possible. We think that both governments are sincere in their desire to see the Dialogue work. Clearly, it has been difficult to move forward but we are not losing hope, we just need to find a formula that will enable us to get the process back on the rails.
RKP: Do you expect something like that to happen soon, or do you think they will need more time, like couple of months? Do you expect them to start again with the Dialogue before summer holidays, for example.
AMB: What we have said, my government has said, is we think 2019 is the year that Kosovo and Serbia should conclude a comprehensive agreement, and in order to conclude an agreement in 2019 we need to see everybody get back to the table and see this moving as quickly as possible. I do not want to attach target dates to the process.
RKP: According to your opinion, when will the fees on Serbian and Bosnian goods actually be suspended? Do you expect them to be suspended soon?
AMB: My government continues to believe that suspending the tariff is one important step to get the Dialogue moving again, we said this many times. It is my view that both the governments in Pristina and Belgrade have demonstrated that they have leverage against the other side, that they can be tough. Now we need both sides to show that they can be flexible and creative, and get the process moving again. We continue to strongly urge the government in Pristina to suspend the tariffs, and there are constructive steps that we want both sides to take. What I think is important is to get everybody back to the table and discussing the wide range of issues that separate Kosovo and Serbia.
I am also well aware, having spent the day here in Mitrovica North, that the people who suffer the most are the people on the ground. That political leaders in Pristina and Belgrade will engage in their processes—will have their politics–but it’s important that people know that the United States cares about the safety, and the security, and the prosperity of people of the Serb community in Kosovo, both in the north and in the south, and we think that the people who will benefit the most from a comprehensive agreement are the members of the Serb community here.
RKP: We heard many messages from the U.S. Government and from the EU, asking Pristina to withdraw this decision on taxes, and so far that didn’t happen. Does your patience have some limits when it’s about the U.S. Government?
AMB: Our patience always has limits. One of the points that we’ve made to both governments, in Pristina and in Belgrade, is that the United States is committed to supporting the process. President Trump, as is widely known, has written to President Thaçi and President Vucic to underscore that the U.S. Government is deeply committed to the process. If the governments are unwilling to move forward in the short term, and say ‘well, we’ll be ready in a few years,’ I can’t guarantee that Washington will be as committed in the future as we are now.
Let me add this: I have seen two narratives in the press in Kosovo about the relations between Kosovo and the United States. One narrative is ‘oh, relations are terrible, the Americans are putting pressure on us, how can they do such a thing?’ I think it is completely natural that countries that are closely associated are going to disagree about policy. That’s a normal thing for friends to do – that doesn’t mean that the relationship is broken. The other narrative though, is one of complacency. People saying ‘well, the Americans love us so much that we can be sure that the same level of political support, economic support, security partnership, will continue forever into the future, and we in Kosovo don’t really have to do anything to maintain that relationship.’ That’s also not true, and frankly, that’s a more dangerous narrative. I believe that every day that goes by without Serbia and Kosovo finding a way forward, and finding a comprehensive agreement that will serve the needs of all the communities, of all the people of the two countries—every day that goes by without addressing these problems is a lost opportunity and a day when there’s always a danger that relations will become worse. I don’t believe that anyone in either government is plotting any kind of provocation or security incident. I think that’s an important thing for your listeners to know because I know people worry about that. But, let’s be honest, sometimes security problems arise spontaneously, from the actions of individuals.
One of the meetings I had today was with the Kosovo Police, including the Regional Director here, with the European Union police from EULEX, and also from KFOR, to talk about the security situation. I believe that all of those institutions are working hard to protect the people of northern Kosovo. It is vital to the United States that we continue to see to the safety and security of all of citizens of Kosovo—that includes the Serb community. In that regard, there have been calls, there have been suggestions that ethnic Serbs should pull out of the police, pull out of the judicial institutions, pull out of institutions in general. One of my meetings today was with the leaders of Srpska List, and I told them, as we have said publicly, we think that would be a big mistake. We think that it’s the Serb community that would suffer the most from withdrawal from the institutions.
Let me add another point there. In my own country, and in other countries around the world where I have lived, I have seen situations where the police, or soldiers—the security forces– don’t represent the community. I think it is very important that when people in a minority community look at the police they say—these are my people, they speak my language, they are here to protect me. There are not an occupying force. I think that while we continue to work to advance the political process—the Dialogue process—it is important that the governments and other stakeholders not take any steps that are going to increase tensions. That applies to the government in Pristina, the government in Belgrade, but also other institutions and organizations.
RKP: Which solution is not acceptable to the U.S. when it comes to the Dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia?
AMB: What we have said is—we have no redlines and we are not writing blank checks. Let me explain those expressions. As a negotiator myself, I don’t want to go into a negotiation with lots of people telling me what I can’t talk about. We think that if Washington and Brussels and London and Berlin and Paris are all telling the negotiators—you can’t talk about this or that—that makes it very difficult to have a wide-ranging discussion. That’s what we mean by no redlines. We’re saying talk about whatever you want to talk about. When we say no blank checks that means we want to see what ideas, what solutions, the negotiators from Kosovo and Serbia can come up with and then we’ll see what we think about it. Certainly, if Kosovo and Serbia are able to define a comprehensive agreement which meets the needs of the people of both countries—which is sustainable—that will be a great achievement and we will want to support that. That is a point I want to emphasize: that if there is an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, the United States is not just going to congratulate everybody and walk away. We are going to stay engaged in the process to make sure that people fulfill their promises and that the process is implemented, because an agreement doesn’t end when there are signatures on a piece of paper. That’s when it begins.
RKP: Speaking of the solutions, we all know very well the positions of Belgrade and Pristina. Pristina stays on the position that Belgrade—Serbia—should recognize Kosovo’s independence and so on. And Belgrade’s position is to talk about everything except Kosovo’s independence and considering Kosovo a part of Serbia. Do you really see that some kind of compromise is possible with these totally opposite positions?
AMB: I do. I think compromise is possible and it’s necessary. (RKP: In what way…the compromise?) If it was easy it would have happened already. We’re not suggesting that people just have to have –a meeting or two and solve all the problems. I’m not going to suggest what that compromise should look like. Once again that’s a job for the negotiators from the parties-that means from Kosovo and Serbia. I think it’s important, speaking as the Ambassador to Kosovo, that Kosovo’s negotiating team represent a wide range of views, of opinions, from all the people of Kosovo. That why my government has urged opposition parties that are keeping their distance from this distance from this process to engage. Even if they’re not ready to join the state delegation, they should be talking to the state delegation and making sure the state delegation understands the needs of the people that those parties represent—that includes Srpska List. I think it’s important for all the opposition parties to be part of the process, not just to sit on the sidelines and criticize because we have a rare opportunity here where the United States and the European Union are both deeply committed. I don’t know how long that window of opportunity is going to stay open. That’s not some sort of threat—it’s just a reality that we think the planets are aligned now, that the conditions exist to move forward and we don’t want to lose this opportunity.
RKP: Serbs in North Mitrovica fear that they could stay without their municipality. They fear violence, job losses in Trepca, loss of university. How much is this fear justified?
AMB: I understand why there is anxiety about that, I think people should calm down, they should relax because I think that it’s important that everybody act responsibly. When I say everybody, again, I mean the governments. We would call on the government in Pristina as well as the government in Belgrade, not to take any more measures that are going to make this more complicated. I also know that there has been some talk about the merger of Mitrovica South and Mitrovica North. We don’t think that the talk is constructive or productive at this time and that’s something that we would not view as acceptable outside the context of a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia. When I say that, I want to emphasize again it is up to the people of Kosovo and Serbia to decide what the way forward is—we are not writing a scenario, we are not saying what we think the final outcome should be, we’re saying that people need to get back to the table and start working on this.
RKP: And just for the end, you visited Mitrovica North today, you said you had meetings with security forces, with Srpska List representatives, whom else did you have meetings with and what was the purpose actually of today’s visit—maybe some conclusions.
AMB: The main reason of my visit today, and this is not my first trip to Mitrovica North by the way, and it won’t be my last, was to talk about the security situation. To underscore that the United States is committed to the safety and the security of people here and we are going to work with the governments, we are going to work with the security forces, we are going to work with the political leaders, to try to lower the temperature. Aso to encourage other people not to take drastic measures that are going to be hard to reverse or that are going to hurt the people here on the ground. I met with the security forces, I met with the political leadership. We also met with some political observers, journalists to get a different perspective.
On a totally different note, I met with an NGO that works with the disabled, and one of the questions I had for the men and women there was whether or not they worked with counterpart NGOs in the majority community. I was happy to hear that the answer was yes. I mention this because we spend a lot of energy on getting governments to talk to each other but it’s also important for people in civil society, in the academic world, in NGOs to talk to each other across ethic lines, across international borders. A lot of the problems that people face here cannot be settled only by governments. I have seen that when members of the minority community and the majority community actually meet and try to find ways to solve the problems together we can make progress.
The United States is a multi-ethnic, religiously diverse society. That’s something that we share with Kosovo. I have frequently said that I could not imagine what Kosovo would be like without minority communities, without members of different religions living here, I think it would be a pretty barren place. I think that the future for Kosovo Serbs has to be in Kosovo and as the representative of the United States I can tell you that we will continue to work hard, to make sure that there is a future for everyone in this country.
RKP: Vaš i naš danasnji gost bio je američki ambasador na Kosovu Filip Kosnet. (Translation: My and your guest today was American Ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett.) Ambassador thank you very much for your time.
AMB: Thank you very much, hvala!