Kosovo Risks Losing the Momentum

Ambassador Kosnett’s Interview for KTV’s Show Interaktiv, January 31,2019

KTV: Welcome to KTV, thank you for being here Ambassador Kosnett.

Ambassador Kosnett: It’s a great pleasure to be here Jamail, thank you for having me.

KTV: Thank you very much, it’s been two months now since you are back in Kosovo. How have these two months been for you?

Ambassador Kosnett: It’s been extraordinary. For me it has been a tremendous privilege to return to Kosovo as the American Ambassador and it has been exciting to see all of the progress that the people of Kosovo have made in the last fifteen years. I am particularly impressed by all of the young people I meet. Full of energy, educated, people who could be successful anywhere in the world and they’ve chosen to stay in Kosovo in order to build a better future for their country.

KTV: There have been a lot of political events since you took the role and today you had an important meeting with the President, the Prime Minister, and the Speaker. The request remains about the suspension of the tariffs against Serbia. What came out of the meeting?

Ambassador Kosnett: It was a very useful, constructive, frank meeting. If I may, let me back up a little bit. I’d like to remind your viewers of what the United States wants for Kosovo. What we want for Kosovo and for the other countries in the region is peace, prosperity and justice. In the last twenty years, I think it’s fair to say the United States has done more than any other country to support our Kosovo friends in building a new country, building democracy, building rule of law institutions, supporting Kosovo’s search for security. Just two examples since I’ve been here: the United States actively supported the transition of the Kosovo Security Forces (KSF) because we believe that Kosovo, like any other country, has the right to self-defense. We also announced the new Millennium Challenge Corporation Compact, just one way in which the United States is providing assistance for the economic development of Kosovo. We believe that a strong, peaceful, prosperous Kosovo with justice for all citizens, is good not only for the people of Kosovo but also for the United States.

We think that in order to achieve progress in rule of law, in economic development, in regional stability, it’s vital that the Dialogue with Serbia resumes as quickly as possible. That brings us to the issue of the tariff. Now, I have to say there have been some confusing and misinformed stories. Just before I came here today, I read that the United States threatened economic sanctions against Kosovo. I want to reassure people that is not the case. That is not the case with how the United States wishes to deal with its friend, Kosovo. I do believe though, that what we are looking for from Kosovo is courageous leadership. It’s very easy to decide that there are reasons to delay the negotiations with Serbia. We don’t think that is in the interests of Kosovo, of Serbia, or of the United States. We think the system is working, the process is working. The development of the State Delegation is a very positive sign. And one thing that I’ve been doing as American Ambassador, is meeting with opposition parties that have not yet decided to join in the State Delegation process, because we think it’s important that the opposition parties engage with the State Delegation, even if they are not ready to join formally. They should be talking to the delegation leaders to explain the concerns of their constituents, the desires of their constituents. Because we think it’s important that the effort to negotiate with Serbia be a process of national unity, where all the voices of Kosovo are heard.

Now, that was a very long lead into your question.

KTV: What is your exact request about the tariff?

Ambassador Kosnett: We believe that Kosovo should temporarily suspend the tariffs for a set period of time, and this will frankly lead to expectations that Belgrade will take constructive measures of its own. I want to say, I don’t speak for the European Union, but I do believe that both the United States and the European Union are engaging with the Government of Serbia, to make sure that if Kosovo takes this step to temporarily suspend the tariffs, that Serbia will react in a constructive fashion. And I say this Xhemajl, because the Dialogue process is not only in Kosovo’s interest or America’s, it’s also in the interest of Serbia. I know the history of the region, I understand all of the anxiety, all of the doubts about the process, but we believe that temporarily suspending the tariffs now, is one vital step to move the process forward.

KTV: The feedback from Prime Minister Haradinaj is that this is a sovereign decision of a sovereign country. It has nothing to do with the US, and he will keep that in force. Do you Mr. Ambassador, have any timeframe on how long you can wait for the Government to take its next steps?

Ambassador Kosnett: The Prime Minister is certainly right when he says that Kosovo has a sovereign right to make its foreign policy decisions – we respect that. That doesn’t mean that the United States has to agree or fall in line behind any decision that Kosovo or any other friendly government makes. This is normal. Friendly governments, friendly countries are going to disagree about things but when they affect our interests, we are going to react. We believe that peace, prosperity, stability, in the Balkan region is not just a matter for countries in the region, it’s also important to the United States. So our interests are at stake. We have resisted giving some sort of deadline – you know – we are not trying to dictate to the Government of Kosovo. But we strongly believe that lifting – again, temporarily suspending the tariffs, as soon as possible, is going to get this process moving forward. If that doesn’t happen, I think that we run the risk of a complete loss of momentum that would be very harmful for the people of Kosovo as well as the people of Serbia, and the United States and the European Union. So there’s a lot at stake here. The issue is not whether or not Kosovo has the right to maintain the tariffs, the question is whether or not it’s a good decision for Kosovo as well as for the United States.

KTV: What is the momentum now, is your administration – does it believe that an agreement is within reach as President Thaci says?

Ambassador Kosnett: We do. The US Government believes that 2019 is the year when a comprehensive agreement is achievable. What do I mean by a comprehensive agreement? One that not only is focused on the issue you hear about all the time – the possibility of a border adjustment – that is a possibility. But one that addresses the wide range of issues that have separated Kosovo and Serbia. President Trump, as many of your viewers know, has personally engaged in this process. He believes that this is the time. So does the European Union. We think that a comprehensive agreement has to open a path for mutual recognition for Kosovo and Serbia, and for both country’s full participation in the western system. There is a great deal at stake here and delay is not going to be beneficial to anybody.

KTV: What is acceptable for your administration? Will you leave the two countries to have an agreement and then you would look up at it and say if that goes with your interests as well?

Ambassador Kosnett: So, thank you. We have consistently said, we are not trying to write the scenario for the talks. We think it’s important that Kosovo and Serbia go into the negotiations with open minds, be able to find creative solutions without restrictions on what they can talk about. You know – if Washington and Brussels all had lists of topics that Serbia and Kosovo negotiators can’t talk about, I think that would make that job very difficult. As a negotiator myself, I like to be able to have open, wide-ranging discussions with the people across the table. And, what we’ve said before is, we will see what sort of understandings the Governments of Serbia and Kosovo can reach that are acceptable to their people, and then we’ll see what our reaction is, but we really want to encourage a very wide ranging conversation. I think that’s one of the reasons that we’re very happy with the State Delegation process. Many voices, many perspectives, with a wide range of responsibilities.

KTV: So nothing is off the table, even the border adjustments?

Ambassador Kosnett: It’s not for us to say what’s off the table. The United States is supporting this EU mediator process, but we are not one of the parties. The parties are Serbia and Kosovo, it’s up to them to decide what they are going to talk about and what the final agreement will look like. It would be inappropriate for us to say you can’t talk about A, B and C. It would be inappropriate for the European Union to say the same thing.

KTV: But you are willing, President Trump has talked about a ceremony taking place in the White House, like a peace agreement, right?

Ambassador Kosnett: That’s right. President Trump has said that if Serbia and Kosovo reach an agreement, we would be happy to memorialize that, to have a ceremony that celebrates it. More important than the ceremony and the photograph in the White House, is the fact that the United States is committed to working with Kosovo and Serbia, to make sure that the agreement is actually implemented and everybody fulfills their promises.

KTV: Prime Minister Haradinaj wrote you a letter, just like to the other ambassadors, among other things, he called for an international conference on Kosovo. Is that something your administration would support?

Ambassador Kosnett: Not at this time. We think the process is not the problem. The process of Serbia and Kosovo meeting together under European Union auspices is completely workable, and the US is closely involved in that process without having a fourth seat at the table. As some analysts and leaders in Kosovo have mentioned, the idea of having an international conference now opens a lot of doors, it opens the door to discussions of issues that have been well settled, including Kosovo’s independence. It could invite other parties in, that are only going to complicate matters.

KTV: Like Russia?

Ambassador Kosnett: For example. So we think that the current process is working just fine. The leaders of the State Delegation just had an excellent meeting in Brussels with European Union officials. We simply have to get the process moving forward and I want to repeat, because I know that your viewers are concerned about this, we expect Serbia also to act in a constructive fashion and move this process forward, because it is in their interest as well.

KTV: In one of your recent statements from the Embassy, you said that the actions of Kosovo leaders, we don’t have to think that there will be no consequences in the way they act, you said that you ruled out economic sanctions, can there be any repercussions about the Kosovo-US relations if not for Kosovo, for any individuals?

Ambassador Kosnett: I am not interested in talking about individual personalities, let’s talk about policies. If Kosovo maintains a policy that makes it difficult or impossible to move forward, to build peace, prosperity, justice in the Balkans, the US will be concerned by that, we will be deeply disappointed with that. I mentioned earlier the close coordination between the United States and Kosovo in economic development, in security. It’s inevitable that the United States and Kosovo must work together to maintain the relationship. It’s like a marriage, you have to respect each other’s needs, each other’s perspectives. If, as some Kosovo officials have actually said in the last few days, that Kosovo doesn’t need the United States anymore, well, I don’t think that’s what the people of Kosovo think. I think that the people of Kosovo very much want to keep a close relationship with the United States. But if Kosovo decides that is not important, you know, we’ll see what happens in the future.

KTV: That is not what some politicians are saying, most of them are interested to keep this close relationship with the United States.

Ambassador Kosnett: Absolutely, there is a lot of drama now. I would go so far as to say that this is artificial drama, even an artificial crisis. There is a very simple way for us to maintain the very strong relationship between Kosovo and the United States and that’s to make sure that our policies remain aligned. And nothing is more important to us in that context than the effort to seek peace, prosperity, and justice for Kosovo and its neighbors. Removing the tariff, temporarily suspending the tariff, will turn the spotlight on Serbia. It’ll be up to Belgrade to take constructive steps going forward, with the United States and European Union watching.

KTV: Prime Minister Haradinaj will want something in return to scrap the tax.

Ambassador Kosnett: Our view is that the most effective way forward is to suspend the tariff now, and then Kosovo and Serbia, with the Americans and Europeans involved in the conversation, can decide what the next steps are. We can go round and round in circles on this. We are not asking for Kosovo to permanently drop the tariffs, we are asking for a temporary suspension. And finally, we don’t have time to get into a long discussion of economics, but the fact is tariffs have a very short life span of effectiveness. Companies adapt, governments adapt, individuals adapt. So while I understand the emotional charge that people get from instituting tariffs, you have to adapt to new circumstances. Kosovo’s leaders are quite capable of demonstrating the courage and the flexibility to move this process forward and we think that’s what their people deserve.

KTV: There is a possibility for the government to fall, actually. Would that complicate things about tariffs and Serbia?

Ambassador Kosnett: You will never hear me speculate about what shape the Government of Kosovo should take. The development of Kosovo’s democracy is a tremendous achievement and the United States is proud that we had something to do with that. It’s up to the people of Kosovo and Kosovo’s leaders, to decide what the government will look like, what will happen next. We’re not playing that game, we’re not stepping into that slush.

KTV: Last one, about the KSF, you said that you hoped obviously your support about the vote in the parliament that NATO will decide about the engagement with KSF very soon, I want to know what will the US engagement with KSF be in the future?

Ambassador Kosnett: I am confident that the United States will continue to support Kosovo in the effort to build its law enforcement, security and judicial institutions. I’m not going to speculate on the specific way ahead, but I just want to reemphasize that the U.S. has no desire to change the nature of its partnership with Kosovo, it’s up to the people of Kosovo and the leaders of Kosovo now to decide what direction they want to take.

KTV: Thank you very much for talking to KTV Mr. Ambassador.

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