US official: Balkans' future is in Euro-Atlantic institutions

23/06/2011

Visiting the Western Balkans, US State Department official Philip Gordon warned of unresolved political problems that impede progress.

By Biljana Pekusic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 23/06/11

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Assistant Secretary of State Philip Gordon reiterated US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo. [Reuters]

Two of the biggest issues in the Balkans -- relations between Serbia and Kosovo and stagnated reforms in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) -- were the focus of Assistant US Secretary of State Philip Gordon's visit to the region last week.

In Belgrade, he told Serbian national TV network RTS that the EU can not accept new members that have unresolved or non-harmonised borders with neighbouring countries.

The government is well aware that the issue of recognising the border with Kosovo is on the agenda, but downplays it domestically amid fears of losing votes in the approaching parliamentary elections, political analyst Dusan Janjic tells SETimes.

After a meeting June 15th between Gordon and Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic, Belgrade issued an official statement saying the talks stressed that bilateral relations have been repaired and that Jeremic briefed Gordon on Serbia's request for the implementation of international criminal investigations regarding Dick Marty's allegations of organ trafficking in Kosovo.

Jeremic has said that Serbia can not accept a unilateral declaration of independence by part of its territory, because "if we discount the Albanian separatists, a unilateral declaration of independence on February 17th 2008 will not be the last we have to face."

In Pristina, Gordon reiterated US support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo and ongoing dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, stressing the importance of the two countries discussing their differences.

"Our vision for this region is Serbia and Kosovo moving towards European integration. For that to happen, it is important that both countries resolve the practical issues that will improve the lives of citizens, and this is exactly what this dialogue is for," Gordon said in Pristina, where he met with President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

Gordon also pointed out that the idea of partitioning Kosovo, floated recently by Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, is not in anyone's interest and could have negative consequences throughout the region. He described it as a "recipe for disaster".

Serbia must solve the problem of relations with Kosovo, and Kosovo should concentrate on fighting corruption and strengthening democracy, said Gordon.

He and Thaci signed a memorandum of understanding that confirms the commitment of the US government -- in part -- to help institutions implement reforms related to economic development and decentralisation. US assistance to this programme is $9.7m.

During his visit to Sarajevo, Gordon said BiH has made significant progress in relation to the 1990s, but that the last five years have not gone in the right direction and the country risks falling behind the rest of the region.

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"It is dangerous to increase nationalist rhetoric ... government institutions and the Dayton Agreement [are] in dispute, and there were attempts to roll back the reforms necessary for joining the European Union and NATO," he observed.

He added that everyone must be willing to compromise and urged Republika Srpska authorities to "review their actions and challenges to the Dayton framework, which come from the Assembly of the RS".

In Sarajevo, he participated in a conference titled "Western Balkans: Progress, Stagnation or Regression", organised by the Bosnian-American Foundation and the SAIS Centre for Transatlantic Relations at John Hopkins University in Washington.

"The Balkans are a key part of Europe, historically, geographically and culturally and its future is in Euro-Atlantic institutions. The US will always support the open door to enter the European Union and NATO, and we will always be ready to assist countries to go through that door," he said. Gordon also met with High Representative for BiH Valentin Inzko in Sarajevo.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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