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Europe and Eurasia: Interview With Ivica Puljic of Al Jazeera-Balkans

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Washington, DC
March 1, 2012

QUESTION: Thank you for the time. Let’s talk about Serbia and Kosovo. We have some updates and how the U.S. government is watching this situation.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Well, we were very pleased earlier this week to see the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo on Kosovo’s participation in regional organizations and on integrated border management. This gives Kosovo the opportunity to represent itself and speak for itself in regional organizations which is very important.

As you know, the United States strongly supports Kosovo’s independence and this is a further step towards manifesting that on the international scene.

We were also very pleased [inaudible] the European Union’s decision to offer candidacy status for Serbia, which is something the United States has supported for some time. We believe Serbia should be on the path to European Union membership. Also the EU’s decision to reach out to Kosovo, launching a feasibility study on a Stabilization and Association Agreement, and basically encouraging both countries on the path to European integration which is something the United States is very strongly behind.

QUESTION: This is excellent first step, but in the future, how do you see the situation in the future?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: There’s clearly a lot more work to be done, both in the EU facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. Obviously there are still major differences over the north of Kosovo and we encourage the sides to talk about those.

The United States strongly supports Kosovo’s territorial integrity and independence, but we believe there are ways to allow for the local inhabitants, the ethnic Serbs in the north of Kosovo, to legitimately elect representatives and to be significantly in charge of their own affairs.

Moving forward for both of those countries is a critical step towards completing Europe and we believe that the candidacy status offered to Serbia is further encouragement for Serbia to normalize its relationship with Kosovo, which will benefit both countries profoundly.

QUESTION: And a few words about Bosnia, please. Bosnia finally has a government, they were waiting for that like 14, 15, months, and do you see that as a good sign or just too late?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The formation of a state-level government in Bosnia was long overdue, taking more than a year after the elections. But we’re very encouraged that the parties have come together to do so, not only formed a government, but have agreed on a budget and taken other steps that show that the state level leadership can contribute to what that country needs.

The United States remains strongly supportive of Bosnia and its continued Euro-Atlantic integration. The first step was getting a state level government in place. We would like to see leaders agree on the disposition of defense properties so that NATO can enhance its relationship with Bosnia and we’ll continue to remain very much engaged with Bosnia leaders on their path forward.

QUESTION: Today is Independence Day in Bosnia, but more than half the country doesn’t recognize that. The Republic of Srpska and [inaudible] celebrating that. That is in my opinion the best point if you’re going to talk about some problems in Bosnia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: The United States strongly supports Bosnia as a country with different entities and different ethnic groups, but as one country. We believe that there’s no alternative to that. We strongly disagree with any notions of partition. We believe that Bosnian Serbs, just as Bosnian Croats and Bosniaks can live and work in the same country, and the more they do so the more it’s in their own interest.

QUESTION: [inaudible] contact with the new government in Croatia? They form a new government, [inaudible] because the Prime Minister just visited Bosnia, his first visit outside of Croatia.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We work very closely with the new government in Croatia. Secretary Clinton looks forward to meeting with her counterpart and we have a big agenda, both bilaterally and throughout the region.

QUESTION: Thank you so much.