Kosovo Negotiations Stalled

Srdja TrifkovicAn international conference that would jump-start the stalled talks on the future status of Kosovo could be held after elections in the Serbian province next month, European diplomats said Monday. The current round of negotiations, supervised by an international “Troika” of the EU, Russia and the United States, is scheduled to end on December 10. It has produced no results, and the EU’s Troika envoy, Wolfgang Ischinger, now says that a conference could be held once the November 17 elections are over. Diplomats said such a conference would mean that the government of Serbia and Kosovo’s Albanian officials could hold several days of negotiations, instead of talks lasting just a few hours—like the first such session that was held in New York on September 28, or the second round scheduled in Brussels next Sunday. On the whole, however, “there is less then meets the eye” to the negotiating process, Chronicles‘ Foreign Affairs Editor Srdja Trifkovic said in his interview aired on CKCU-FM 93.1 in Ottawa.

ST: There was absolutely nothing that the Albanian side was prepared to negotiate about. All true negotiations are give-and-take processes in which the final outcome is not necessarily preordained. The Albanian side has no incentive to give anything for as long as it believes that, after December 10, the US would encourage Pristina to procede with unilateral declaration of independence, which would be followed by the recognition from Washington regardless of the opposition of the Russians and regardless of the fact that therefore it cannot be effected through the UN Security Council.

CKCU-FM: What has Serbian side offered to Albanians in Kosovo-Metohija?

ST: The Serbian side offered what might be called “super-autonomy.” It would be based on the experiences of other democratic societies dealing with the aspirations of ethnic minorities within its territory. There would be additional ingredients, such as the possibility of Kosovo joining various international organizations, such as the World Bank and the IMF. Kosovo’s Albanians would enjoy full legislative and judicial autonomy. Effectively Serbia would only retain the nominal sovereignty over Kosovo and its external representation at the UN. It would be the model of the highest autonomy short of independence, the equivalent of which we do not have anywhere else in the world.

CKCU-FM: If the Albanians have no incentive to negotiate, what can be done to break the deadlock?

ST: It would be necessary for the United States to tell the Albanians that Washington is not on automatic pilot towards the unilateral recognition, that Washington accepts that negotiations ought to proceed without a preconceived outcome and that the U.S. will take stock of its position at the end of the negotiating process. Furthermore, that Washington is committed to the observance of international law, the UN Charter, the Final Act from Helsinki, and the need to maintain good relations both with the EU and Russia.

CKCU-FM: What are Serbia’s options?

ST: In order for Serbia’s often stated rejection of the amputation of 15 percent of its sovereign territory to be taken more seriously, Belgrade should take a number of concrete steps. One would be to indicate in clear-cut terms what would be the consequences of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, and of the illegal and illegitimate recognition of such an act by a foreign country. We still have some dichotomy coming from Belgrade as to what would follow such an act. On Prime Minister Kostunica’s side we see a hardening of the position, with escalating criticism directed both at NATO and at the United States. On the President Tadic’s and Foreign Minister Jeremic’s side, within the Democratic Party which is Kostunica’s coalition partner, we witness a great deal of ambiguity, however. On one hand they talk about the need to preserve Kosovo within Serbia—but on the other they claim that the process of “Euro-Atlantic integrations,” which means the aspiration of Serbia to join both the EU and the North Atlantic Alliance, would continue come what may. This dichotomy remains unresolved within Serbia’s leadership. By contrast, the Democratic Party of Serbia and Prime Minister Kostunica himself are rejecting “Euro-Atlantic” course. In my opinion it would be necessary for Serbia to state in clear-cut, unambiguous terms that in case of UDI the option of seeking NATO membership would be completely discarded by Belgrade. In addition, the EU would cease to be a strategic option for Serbia if the EU supports unilateral declaration of independence and if any of its key members (e.g., Britain and France) go ahead with recognition of that independence.

It would be desirable for Serbia to make gestures that underline the seriousness of her position, specifically by staging military manoeuvres along the administrative line of division between Kosovo and the rest of Serbia, and by preparing the ground for de facto blockade of Kosovo. It would entail non-recognition of any document issued by an illegally self-proclaimed government in Pristina, including personal ID papers, license plates, customs declarations, or anything that would enable Kosovo to use Serbia as a transit corridor towards the rest of Europe. Kosovo is not only landlocked but also reliant on Serbia for its connections with the rest of the world. The only rail line connecting Kosovo with the outside world, other than through Serbia, leads to Skopje; but going south, to Macedonia, would take Kosovo away from Europe and not towards it.

In addition it would be necessary to specify what concrete diplomatic steps would follow in the relationship between Serbia and any country that would extend recognition of illegally proclaimed independence. Would Belgrade contemplate a complete severance of diplomatic relations, or merely their scaling down to the level of charge d’affaires? And last but by no means least, what would it entail in terms of Serbia’s relations with Russia? The West is still counting on the ambivalence within the leadership in Belgrade to preclude the possibility of formalizing closer links between Serbia and Russia. At the moment the Russians are the only major power that is explicitly supporting Serbia’s position that demands observance of international law, the UN Charter and the Helsinki Final Act. The possibility of institutionalized linking of Belgrade with Moscow through some sort of formal pact of mutual support is real. It would institutionalize a relationship that already exists in fact, if not in law.

What we have witnessed over the past several years is the EU, and even more so the U.S., taking Serbia for granted. No matter what they do to Serbia, no mater how they treat its positions, they assumed that Belgrade would still come back and ask for more. It is necessary for the West and particularly for the U.S. to realize that the price of alienating ten million Serbs is much higher than the price of not delivering to the Albanians what it was not in the power for the US to promise in the first place. [ . . . ]

CKCU-FM: Will Kosovo proclaim independence on December 10?

ST: It will depend on the behaviour of the US. Short of Washington sending a strong signal to Pristina that there would be no automatic recognition, it will happen. What may yet sway Washington’s position is not so much what Belgrade does or does not do, because people like Nicolas Burns or Daniel Fried are beyond rational arguments, such as that there is no difference to the US whose flag is flying over Pristina. But, if there is a signal from Brussels, if there is a signal from the EU that the Europe will not be able to follow Washington’s lead on this one, that it would cause a serious splits within the EU, we could perhaps see some rethinking of the US position. We have a number of states that have openly expressed opposition to recognition, countries such as Spain, Slovakia, Rumainia, Greece, Cyprus and Malta, We are not witnessing such signals from Brussels at the moment because within the EU there is still some hope that a compromise solution may be patched together at an international conference. It may well include the offer of partition, which Serbia should reject. There is no reason why Serbia should give up the fundamental tenet of its present position: the inviolability of its borders and its sovereignty. The support of Russia, China, India and other countries depends on Serbia’s ability to stand firm on the principle of inviolability. Once you start negotiating about the secession of some segment of your sovereign territory, even it is one square mile, you have violated that principle.

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