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Europe and Eurasia: Interview With Xhevdet Sfarca of RTK

Question: Madam Assistant Secretary, welcome back to Kosovo. This is your second visit to Kosovo in a year. How important is Kosovo for the United States and what are your goals in Washington for the future of relations between the United States and Kosovo?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, thanks, Xhevdet for the opportunity to be with you. Yes, I was here with Secretary Kerry back in the winter, I’ve tried to come on my own every year as well. I think you know that the United States has nearly a 20 year investment in Kosovo’s sovereignty and independence, and prosperity as a democratic state, helping you to build a clean, democratic Kosovo. Our message today was that Kosovo has made considerable progress, including since the last time I was here with Secretary Kerry in the winter. You have the Special Court moving, you’ve settled the EULEX issue, we have relative political stability. But it is a time now for Kosovo to really step on the gas and address some of the problems that all of the people of this country are looking to have addressed, including continuing to clean up the justice system, clean up crime and corruption, and ensure that you are growing your economy, creating an environment that is stimulating investment. We have American investors who want to come here, but they need to know that the country is on a strong trajectory. And, of course, your integration with Europe and your process with Serbia. So those were our main themes today.

Question: Talking about the progress in Kosovo, we have seen very little progress in our Parliament, especially with the opposition parties opposing the border agreement with Montenegro and creation of Association of Municipalities with the Serb majority population. How do you see the work of the Assembly and how do you see these two important issues?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, we’ve made no secret, over this entire period of our concern that Kosovo needs a dynamic, functioning parliament where elected politicians come and debate rather than throwing tear gas or boycotting or any of those things. If you want a strong democracy, you have to participate in the democratic process. I saw the speaker today, I met him for the first time as party leader. We encouraged an acceleration of the work in the Parliament. We are strong supporters of the border agreement with Montenegro because this is an issue of sovereignty for Kosovo. Sovereign nations need stable, secure borders. It’s something that you need to do for your own future. It’s frankly, from where we are sitting, all of this debate is relatively artificial, it’s a created problem and, frankly, we want to see Kosovo be able to integrate more deeply into Europe. We want to see young Kosovars have the chance to travel back and forth, not feel like they have to move, but be able to have opportunity here, to make Kosovo a real hub to Europe. So this is an important issue. It’s an issue of sovereignty, it’s an issue of your future, and we don’t want to see it politicized. We’d like to see you get this issue resolved this summer and move on.

Question: Serbia continues to block Kosovo’s integration into the international community, with its political leaders stating that it will never recognize the independence of Kosovo. How does this help inter-ethnic relations, and how can Dialogue progress with this sort of provocative declaration from Serb leaders?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: The United States, as you know, has been a strong supporter over these years of the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue. Some progress has been made, but I think what we want to see now is that the agreements that have already been made are implemented. We’re glad to see that there is now a group formed to write your legislation on the Association of Municipalities. I will obviously, when I go to Belgrade, be talking to the Prime Minister there and the government there about implementing the pieces of the agreement that have already been settled. But more broadly, we want to see this process of dialogue continue and we want to see that a full resolution of the issues of sovereignty between both countries is settled. But equally important is for Kosovo to build itself, and to be as strong as possible as a country, and as a multi-ethnic country where Kosovo Albanians, Kosovo Serbs, all ethnicities can live in peace, because not only does the region need that but the planet needs it and Kosovo has an opportunity to set that example.

Question: Concerns of religious extremism in Kosovo continues to be in the news in the United States recently, and concerns here in Kosovo too. Kosovo is a part of the global alliance against terrorism but are Kosovo’s institutions doing enough, fighting the extremism?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Xhevdet, I would say that Kosovo has made really good progress in the region in terms of the work you are doing to identify at-risk youth, to increase criminal penalties for fighting in foreign wars, for criminalizing extremism. But obviously more needs to be done. And this goes to the general issue-- it’s not just a Kosovo issue, it’s a regional issue in the Balkans-- that when the economy isn’t growing fast enough, when you have youth unemployment at such high levels particularly outside the city, those young people become vulnerable to recruitment. So this is why we need a Kosovo that is strong, is independent, is growing economically, is integrated with Europe, so that young people see a positive future and they say “no” to the siren song of violent extremism. But it’s also really important the community work that everybody is doing-- strong relationships between parents and employers and religious leaders and government to know what’s happening in your community and to nip it in the bud. And I think Kosovo is doing well there. We, the United States, are trying to foster more regional work on this subject, we are working also with Albania and I think the fact that the countries of this region are beginning to work together to counter extremism is also a good development, so keep it up.

Question: Madame Assistant Secretary, thank you for your time.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Xhevdet, thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and to your viewers. We wish a strong, independent, democratic Kosovo-- that is our wish for you.