Thursday, June 09, 2005

R. Nicholas Burns G8 Press Roundtable in London

US State Department
6,965 words
9 June 2005
Copyright 2005, All Rights Reserved.

Press Roundtable in London

R. Nicholas Burns, Under Secretary for Political Affairs

London, United Kingdom

June 6, 2005

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I am here for a G8 meeting of political directors, and that's under British chairmanship, and we are talking about all of the foreign policy issues, including Iraq and Iran and Afghanistan and the Middle East peace negotiations, the Broader Middle East reform effort, North Korea, Sudan, United Nations reform. There is a whole long list of issues that the Foreign Ministers will be discussing here under Jack Straw's chairmanship on June 23rd and also issues that will be taken up at Gleneagles on July 6, 7 and 8. We had a series of meetings under British chairmanship over the last several months, and we are making very good progress.

I think what I will not do today, much to your dismay, is comment on-the-record on tomorrow's meeting, because I really think with the Prime Minister and the President, who will be talking to the press tomorrow, it's better for them to talk about these issues. And so, on development, aid and climate change and the other leading issues that will be under discussion tomorrow, I think it's better to let the two leaders discuss that.

QUESTION: Is anyone else working on that? What about talking off-the-record?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Off the record? Depends what you mean by off-the-record. In America, off-the-record means you can't use a quote, it's not for attribution, you can't use the quote at all, it's just information.

But in any case, what I also wanted to say was I think the relationship between the United States and Europe is vastly improved in tone and substance, over the last six months. It dates, of course, from our President's re-election, the Iraqi elections, the NATO and EU summits in mid-February in Brussels. In essence we've turned a corner at the start of this year.

In diplomatic terms, in terms of how we relate to these governments, we have put behind us the disputes of two years ago, and moved on. You can see that from the French-American partnership in Lebanon, which has been very close. You can see it in the very good discussions we've had on Iraq. On June 22, the US and the EU are sponsoring the International Conference on Iraq together. That's a sign that things have changed.

We are very much focused on the Balkans. In fact, I'm going to Sarajevo, Pristina and Belgrade starting tomorrow and a number of my European colleagues have made the same trip, because we've really got to push the Balkans back on to the center stage. This is a time we can make, we think, a lot of progress on Kosovo, where we expect that the United Nations might be able to convene in final status talks on Kosovo at the end of this year.

It's certainly a time to try to build on the very good work done by Lord Paddy Ashdown in Bosnia he's really been a very effective representative of the United Nations and of the European Union ten years after Dayton, ten years after Srebrenica and that anniversary comes up in about a month's time to see if it's possible to help the Bosnians put together a single state. Dayton left them with a very cumbersome machinery, which was necessary at the time. But ten years later it's important to be able to help them build a multi-ethnic state with one set of governing institutions, and certainly time, ten years after Srebrenica, for Mladic and Karadzic to be captured and to be extradited to The Hague and to stand trial for war crimes. That would allow Serbia, Montenegro and the Bosnian Serbs to be accepted as a full partner by both NATO and the European Union. So, we are focused on the Balkans.

Today, we've talked a lot about Afghanistan and the need to support the parliamentary elections there and continue the good work that the international community is doing. We've talked a lot about Darfur. NATO is about to make what will be an historic decision, in a couple of days time, to lift eight battalions of African peacekeepers into Darfur to double the size if not ,we hope, triple within six months of the African Union military presence on the ground in Southern Sudan, to protect the people of Darfur.

There's certainly time for us to continue our efforts to promote democratic reform in the Muslim world in the Arab world. That's been a project of the G8 and of the EU and of NATO. So, lots on our agenda, not to speak of South Asia and East Asia. I'm happy to go to your questions and answer anything that's on your mind.

QUESTION: On Darfur, I thought the French were objecting to NATO having a role in Darfur?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, there's been quite a lot of discussion about this. I was in touch with the NATO Secretary General just yesterday, and I am quite sure that NATO will make a decision this week, that it will coordinate the airlift for any NATO member that wishes to do so. I know that the United States and Canada have already committed to provide well more than half of the air lift that's required and since we're both loyal members of NATO I can only speak for my own country will be happy to have NATO coordinate our efforts. If any country should object to NATO doing that, they are fine to go off and make their own arrangements. What we don't want to see, frankly, is any kind of competition because there is so much work that needs to be done in Darfur and quickly. I think that the imperative will be to make a decision this week and I'm sure NATO will do that. And I'm sure that the EU is ready to move, as well. So both organizations have a place to assist the African Union.

This is a different kind of military mission. This is not NATO and the EU going in to perform a traditional peacekeeping operation. It's actually the African Union that has the lead and the African Union is doing the job. The African Union has come to NATO and the EU to say: "We've got the men necessary to do the job, we've got the will, but we don't have the airlift, we don't have logistics, we don't have a communications hub. Could you help with the framework support?"

So, we are not talking about putting thousands, or even hundreds of Europeans and Americans into Sudan, we're talking about giving them the military supports so they can do the job. That's a very welcome development. I think as we watch the situation there, as well as the situation in Congo, it's the emergence of the African Union politically and military it's a hopeful sign, so that it might be effective in dealing with some of these regional conflicts in Africa that are so bloody and so tragic. In the Congo, three and a half million people have died in five years, and in Darfur, all of you have chronicled the human rights abuses there. So, I think that there's a great in the room today and in my conversations here in London a great desire that both NATO and the EU will make their decisions this week and get on with the business of helping the AU. I'm quite confident it's going to happen.

QUESTION: But are those troops going to be primarily for Darfur or primarily for Southern Sudan? Because my understand was that the Sudanese government had sort of said: "Okay, bring them in for peacekeeping," but wasn't keen on the help to get them more to Darfur?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, there are two imperatives in Sudan, as you know. One is to help support the North-South Agreement of January 9, and the second is to provide security for non-governmental organizations and the United Nations, trying to assist the people of Darfur who had been ravaged by the attacks by the Janjaweed. We believe that the building up of the AU military presence in Sudan will serve both ends, it will be invaluable in both respects.

QUESTION: But in terms of number of troops, you talk about the doubling or tripling number of troops. Are most of that those new troops going to the South or are we talking about significant new numbers in Darfur?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Most will be going to the South, but not all. This is really up to the African Union to decide how many soldiers they wish to put on the ground. Right now, as you know, they have a few thousand. They have ambitions to double or triple that number, but they will lack the military framework support lift, logistics and that kind of thing and that's what we've been asked to provide. And that's what we'll do.

QUESTION: So, do the US planes land in Darfur with troops or what?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: They will enter Sudan with troops. Since the operations have not yet been the operational planning has not yet been done, I can't tell you which airfields they will be going to, but they are going into Sudan and they are bringing African Union peacekeepers. Rwanda has been very generous, for instance, in promising battalions. But they need lift, and so the US has agreed to lift (inaudible) Rwandan peacekeepers into Sudan.

QUESTION: The International Criminal Court announced today that it was opening criminal investigations into who was responsible for war crimes in Darfur. I was wondering, when this matter was referred to the ICC from the UN Security Council it did so thanks largely to the Americans abstaining in the vote. Has the Bush administration changed it's position on this? Is it happy to see the ICC prosecute this issue and for them to take the lead in what is quite an important test case, really, for how the world responds to this?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We retain our position, in general, on the International Criminal Court, which is that we do not plan to join, to be a member of the Court, as you know. So, our position has not changed in that respect. But when it came to Sudan, the three resolutions and the United Nations in the latter part of March, we felt that the international community had to speak with one voice on the issue of war crimes and there had to be a way to adjudicate those war crimes. Therefore, we did abstain in the Council because we felt that was the larger and more important comparative. And so, in that sense we are very pleased that there is now a process by which the people who are responsible for those horrific crimes in Darfur can now be judged.

QUESTION: Can you imagine that applying the next time an issue comes up? Is this a precedent?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We said at the time in New York when we abstained on the French resolution that we did not believe that this established a precedence for the ICC to be involved in other parts of the world. But again, it was the overwhelming sense that if it wasn't possible to have a tribunal (inaudible) that would work, and that was universally accepted in the case of Sudan, then we would have missed a major opportunity to put on trial those people responsible for these terrible crimes. You heard, last week, President Bush talk about Darfur and talk about the fact that genocide has occurred and used the word genocide as Secretary Powell had before him. So, we put aside our long held position, which we have not changed, and made an exception for the case of Darfur, which we believe, is the right decision.

QUESTION: Can I ask you about something away from this agenda, which as you mentioned as a G8 subject which is North Korea. Right now there seems to be (inaudible) of impatience being expressed about it's been almost a year since the end of the Rice talks are we heading into a more or less difficult period over the next few weeks?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's unclear. It's been a year since the North Koreans showed up at the Six Party Talks, when we put down our proposal for them to look at. There's a great feeling of frustration, I think, among the five countries here, that they haven't come back. I think every one of those five countries has said publicly, innumerable times over the last several months, that they ought to come back; if the only way forward is a peaceful negotiated settlement that North Koreans ought to engage with us, but they haven't done it.

Secretary Rice talked about this a little bit when she was heading down to Ft. Lauderdale yesterday for the OAS General Assembly. She said we are always reviewing our options, of course when you look at the quotes on the wires but that we are resolved to proceed with the Six Party Talks. We resolve to proceed to try to talk to the North Koreans, but they have to show up for us to do that.

QUESTION: We keep getting these statements from the Chinese, and sometimes the South Korean diplomats, that they are kind of frustrated with you almost as they are with the North Koreans. Is that an accurate reflection of what's going on?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: No, it's not. We've not heard anything like that from the Chinese and South Korean governments, that they are almost as frustrated with us as they are with the North Koreans. No, we've not heard that from them diplomatically. They've not told us that. It's certainly not an accurate reflection of the situation, which is that we are ready and able and willing to talk, but there's a venue for it and a process for it, there's a multi-lateral process that we believe is the only way forward.

QUESTION: (inaudible)

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We've not yet given up on the possibility of one year later convening a session of these Six Party negotiations.

QUESTION: On a different subject, the current crisis within the European Union.. How concerned are you that with this extraordinary broad agenda that you set out of foreign policy problems, many of them very pressing, very difficult, that a much more introspective European Union, one where there is some really rather abrasive tensions between leaders of the crisis that could go on now for some considerable time Do you think that is going to lead to a debilitative Europe, a Europe that is less able, those that want to engage and support with aspects of American policy?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think it's appropriate for the United States not to involve itself in what is rightfully a European debate on the constitution. You've seen that we've tried very, very hard since the French vote not to say things or do things which would somehow make ourselves an actor in this process. It wouldn't be appropriate; it's not our place; we're not members of the European Union.

Having said that, if you look at the US-European agenda, it's a very rich agenda. We are responsible together: we are co-sponsors of the Middle East Peace negotiations; we're one half of the Quartet; we are involved in Afghanistan as joint venture partners in trying to help sustain their government; we are involved in Iraq, now co-sponsoring the major international conference on Iraq to support the new Iraqi government as partners in that joint venture. There's no question that if Kosovo, Bosnia and Serbia are to make the kind of progress we wish to have them make that would be a function of combined European-American joint work.

There is also now a question that if we are to achieve a strategic stability of good relations with Russia, with Ukraine and of prospects for long term partnership in alliance with Turkey, that's also a joint work of the US-European relationship. And I haven't even mentioned the whole host of civil projects and justice projects and judicial reform and intelligence cooperation.

The United States wants and needs as a partner an outward looking Europe, a Europe that has the self-confidence to play the role that Europe must in the world as a wealthy, advanced and stable continent. And we have a great relationship with the EU. It has developed significantly since 9/11 in ways it had not before. If you look at what we are doing in container security, in judicial cooperation in the war on terrorism, in intelligence cooperation, on counter-proliferation and counter-terrorism, this agenda speaks to the heart of what is truly vital for both Europe and America. And so, what we are counting on is (inaudible) the United States is not going to and should not involve itself in the debate here about the constitution, but that we want to retain a partner that is willing to work on all these issues with us. We had in Washington last week Javier Solana, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner and the Luxembourg Presidency, and for two days meeting with Secretary Rice every indication we received from them was that Europe and the EU want to continue to be assertive and ambitious in playing this foreign policy role. And that's certainly what I've heard today here in London from our G8 partners.

QUESTION: Can I ask more about the G8? Here, you see a lot of headlines here there is a lot of emphasis on climate change and Africa, but from an American perspective what would be your two headlines to come out of the G8? At the moment, how does it look to you? What are the two or three most important things?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I used to be State Department Spokesman ten years ago and I remember one of the golden rules is: when the leaders are about to meet, it's probably best not to try and predict what they might say and what they might agree upon. So, I really do think I'm going to have to take a pass and I apologize for that. I think it's the better part of valor. You have Blair and Bush meeting tomorrow. They'll give you this news soon enough.

QUESTION: Can I ask about Iran? Have you decided what the Bush administration is going to do about (inaudible) if you will do support him next week to get another term? And presumably you are happy for the European talks to continue with the Iranians, and I was just wondering if you would ever set a deadline on that?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We very strongly support the EU through the effort to negotiate a peaceful cessation and dismantling of Iran's nuclear fuel cycle activities. That sounds very technical, but that's what the desired end-state is. We've been in touch on a nearly daily basis I certainly have with my British, French and German [counterparts]. Secretary Rice has with Jack Straw and the others. We think the EU is right to try and achieve a negotiated peaceful settlement of the problem posed by what most people believe is Iran's desire to build a nuclear weapons capability. We have given our full support. In fact, just after the Geneva meeting nearly two weeks ago now, the US fulfilled it's commitment to the EU-3 and to Iran, in that we did not object to the commencement of Iran's WTO application. We have also permitted the sale of civilian spare parts for Iran's aging civilian airliners, which is very important to them. And we have given our full diplomatic support to the EU.

Our view is that Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapons capability behind the guise or the veneer of a peaceful civilian nuclear energy program. We base that fear and belief on the fact that for a very long time, 17 years, Iran mislead the IAEA about its nuclear research. We can't know everything that Iran may be doing, may not be doing, behind closed doors in secret, but we believe that Iran is not a state that should be in possession of nuclear weapons or advanced nuclear knowledge or reprocessing capability. So we've taken the position that Iran should not have access to any part of the nuclear fuel cycle process.

In that respect, as you know, as the Europeans proceeded at the end of 2004 with their negotiations. We didn't take the opportunity to support those negotiations publicly. But after following the President's trip to Europe in February when he met with President Chirac and then met with Chancellor Kohl in Mainz, the President decided that, actually, we shared a lot of the same goals with the Europeans and that since we vastly prefer a peaceful negotiated outcome with this (inaudible) that we would back the EU effort and we still do. We wish the EU well. The Iranians have elections coming up on the 17th of June and we have to see what government emerges and what policies that government pursues and what stands they take on the nuclear issue with the EU-3. But we fully expect to continue our support, as long as the end result will be to deny to Iran the technical and scientific knowledge, and the activities associated with that in the nuclear fuel cycle, that would allow them to have a sophisticated nuclear research capability.

QUESTION: Is there a time frame then? Would you think of bringing the curtain down?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don't think the EU-3 have put a limit on their negotiations and we haven't either. We support them and we particularly admire the way that the EU-3 conducted the Geneva negotiation of two weeks ago. And since the elections are now moving, and that seems to be almost a break on the activity until the elections are over, I think it's best to keep it there.

QUESTION: Could I ask one last question on Iran? There's been speculation that any future deal might have to involve some kind of basic uranium, if the deal can be done at all, which means some fuel-cycle activity but not the enrichment of uranium. Is that something you are ruling out?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: What we have said is that, at this point, if you look at the fuel cycling continuing, it doesn't make a lot of sense to start with conversion and then stop there. If a country wants to start converting uranium, you would think they were doing so for one reason and one reason only, and that's to produce fissile material. So, our position has been that we would not support any Iranian entry into the fuel cycle process. For instance, we would not be in favor of conversion at the facility in Isfahan, which I think had been in question and much talked about in the media. Our position had been that Iran should give up all hope and all plans to develop that kind of scientific capability they currently do not have.

QUESTION: Several things that the Europeans seem to be offering include guaranteed supplies of nuclear fuel, possibly through some kind of mass proliferation of technology and various other ways. Would you support those? Can I just clarify the point of spares, whether you'll actually agree to a contracts for spares or really set in principle, I suppose?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We are talking about spare parts? Yes. We are willing to see firms go ahead and actually sell those spare parts to Iran as well as see Iran begin its..its obviously for every country a lengthy WTO application process. So we've met our commitments there. I don't think I want to address a hypothetical question. The EU is where it is. The EU-3 have taken the principle position that there should be (inaudible) and that's where they are in negotiations and we support the EU-3 on that basis.

QUESTION: But there are (inaudible) to supply the fuel, that's part of the (inaudible).

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: There has been no such announcement by the EU-3 that I've seen. As a result of the Geneva meeting I think what was announced was that the EU-3 would come back with some ideas, some time this summer, and I don't think they were any more specific than that.

QUESTION: How do you respond to the wider criticism of US policy on both matters of Iran and North Korea, that the practical steps that the administration is prepared to offer aircraft spare parts and so on are just not sufficient for the task at hand. That if these are the major proliferation threats that are facing the world, there has to be a much more active American role, Americans have to put much more significant things into the bargain, and that in affect you have this American policy which is (inaudible). At home there are differences between different agencies and that really one is left with the impression that what you really want is to see the end of the North Korean regime and a change of regime in Iran and if you were serious about negotiating you would be putting much more significant things on to the bargaining table?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Let me take one thing at a time. On North Korea, we are willing to talk we are willing to talk in a multilateral context with all of North Korea's neighbors at the table and yet North Korea won't sit down. So, I find it a little far fetched to blame the United States for that state of affairs. We are simply waiting for North Korea to show up.

On the question of Iran, we were asked to offer two incentives to the Iranians. One was the WTO and the other was spare parts. We've done both of them. We were not asked to go further than that. We have a very long and difficult and rather unique relationship or non-relationship with Iran. It's the only state in the world with which we have no official discussions. There's certainly no representation there. You know the history since 1979. This is an issue of critical importance whether or not that particular regime will achieve a nuclear weapons capability and we are determined that it will not do so. And that's why we support this negotiation, because we believe this negotiation has the possibility of ending those aspirations for the Iranians.

QUESTION: Some of the Iranian candidates for President are talking about open and direct negotiations with the United States. Would you respond to that or are there conditions on talks with Iran?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: It's impossible to answer a hypothetical question. We don't know who's saying these things.

QUESTION: The question is: are there pre-conditions on your relationship with Iran?

UNDERSECRETARY BURNS: We, since 1979, have had several many conversations with Iranians at a process, the Algiers Process, where we talked to each other about legal claims we have against each other. There have been discussions over the years, most recently, when Secretary Powell had an initial meeting in Sharm El Sheikh was [seated] next to the Iranian foreign minister and had a long conversation. So, it's not as if we've said we will never talk to Iran. The attempts to do so over the last several decades have never borne fruit. I don't want to speculate on whether or not now is the time, or it should be the time. We have to wait and see what the future holds. But we have no plans right now. We have no plans right now to conduct any of those discussions.

QUESTION: One of the things that the Iranians are looking for, though, is a guarantee, a security guarantee: if they do not develop a nuclear weapon their security will be guaranteed. It strikes me that that's something that Europe can't really give, that's something they are actually looking to the United States to provide, as they were on the WTO?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I think again it's a bit hypothetical at this point. We haven't been asked for anything of the sort. The negotiations are beginning at a preliminary stage, and so I really have to confine myself with what's real right now, and what's real is this current set of negotiations which we are supporting.

QUESTION: On Kosovo, we've got Karadzic, Mladic and you mentioned the need to bring them to justice. And I'm sure you saw the pictures earlier this week. You know the region very well. It's still puzzling to people, even given the difficult terrain, to think that we are ten years on and no real success has been made in bringing these people to justice. And there are many NATO troops is in the region and special forces and what have you. Why do you think now we might get a result where we haven't before and why has it taken so long?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's a good question. We believe that Mladic has been shielded and protected by elements of the Serb army over the last decade. We believe he is still in Serbia, or in the region, and that with the right political will he can be found by the Serbian authorities and extradited at The Hague. Karadzic, we believe, has also received the assistance of members of the Bosnian Serb community and we believe he can also be located. It is not a particularly difficult thing to hide if you have money, if you have associates willing to protect you, if you have powerful interests willing to protect you. And that's surely what both these men have had over the past ten years. What has changed is that NATO especially, and also the European Union, made it clear to the authorities in Belgrade that there would not be a normal relationship that would develop economically or in terms of military partnership until these two individuals have been turned over. So, just in the last three months we have seen the authorities in Belgrade facilitate the transfer of 12 indicted war criminals to The Hague. We haven't seen this progress in ten years.

Why did that happen? Because the international community actually put a lot of pressure on the Serb government and leverage, and it warned the Serb government, for instance in the case of NATO, that Serbia would not be welcome in the Partnership for Peace until this happens. So, we think the time is right now for the final two war criminals to be captured, as well as Mr. Gotovina in Croatia. And when that happens all three of those governments Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia can then begin to enjoy a normal relationship with the western institutions. But they have got to take this step.

To look at that footage on Serb TV the other night and to see the execution by Serb soldiers of innocent civilians at Srebrenica has to have had a dramatic impact on the people of the region. How could you have not seen that footage and not be shocked by it? And if you look at the reaction over the last couple of days it seems to have had a profound impact on the Serb people, and we hope it will convince the Serb public opinion that Mladic is not a hero. He's responsible for the worst massacre in Europe since the Nazis. July 11th of this year is the 10th anniversary of the execution of up to 8,000 men and boys and we simply can't go forward as if it's business as usual with the Serb government as long as a guy like Mladic is at large.

Many of us have been to Srebrenica. If you go there you meet a lot of Muslim women who have moved back, they've re-established their homes. Many of them have lost husbands, brothers, sons, cousins, uncles. They've gone back without the paternal figure in the household. They are under the protection of the US, British, French military. They are very courageous. They deserve justice for what happened ten years ago. So, all of us are determined, all of us in Europe and the United States, to see these two individuals turned over to The Hague.

QUESTION: You think Mladic is in Serbia and Karadzic is in Bosnia?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, Karadzic has been helped by the Bosnian Serbs, elements of the Bosnian Serb community. He could be anywhere, he could be in Montenegro, in the Republika Srpska, he could slip across the border into Serbia. Our best sense is that Mladic has been for many, many years under the protection of elements of the Serb armed forces, amassing leadership of the Serb armed forces, but elements of the Serbs.

QUESTION: In Serbia itself?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes. It's difficult, if someone wants to hide and they have money and they have protection and it's a mountainous region the way the Balkans are, it's not hard to hide. It's not difficult to hide and be successful at hiding. But you've got a network. That's where the authorities in (inaudible) and the authorities of Belgrade come in. They surely can find out what the protection racket is, what the protection network is and they could break it down and that's their job. Obviously, NATO, as you know, has launched countless raids, especially concerning Karadzic, over the years and has never been successful. If NATO can capture him then we will. But it's far easier and far more likely that these people are going to be turned in by their own compatriots, and that's the historical responsibility of the Serb people to turn both of them in. That's our best sense of how this can happen.

QUESTION: Under Secretary, do you believe that members of NATO, all members of NATO, are equally committed to finding Karadzic?


QUESTION: And secondly, on Kosovo, do you believe do you have a view of what should be the final status?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We've very deliberately have tried not to proscribe a final status with Kosovo. This is an enormously complicated situation where you have a majority population that clearly desires one result, but you have a minority population that desires to live in the country they've been there for centuries. You have the fact that the war is six years away. It's still fresh in the memory of many of the people of the region. There's been ethnic cleansing of a major proportion against the Muslims. There's been ethnic cleansing against the Kosovo Serbs just in the last 18 months. It's a very raw situation and it wouldn't be right for Europe and the United States to proscribe an outcome before the parties have actually sat down at the negotiating table. They are the ones who have to figure out the future of their country.

But one thing we do know: the status quo there is absolutely not sustainable. It's not sustainable. Six years after the war, people of Kosovo deserve to know what is their future, and that's how we can help. The United Nations will be the convener of these discussions when they occur. Europe has to be involved, as does the United States, in a big way, and what we've been talking about over the last several weeks is the fact that in many ways the Balkans have been on the back burner. There have been so many dramatic world events that have taken the attention of all of our countries and we have to go back now and complete this job that was begun so well in the mid-1990s.

So, my government has been signaling for several weeks now that we are ready to do that. We are ready to keep the American troops in Sarajevo. We are ready to keep the American troops in Kosovo, as part of KFOR. We have the same commitment from the European allies. And so, we need to stay there to provide the security so that when these talks do convene it will be the people of the region, as well as the Serb government, who decide the future of Kosovo.

QUESTION: It seems that the way it was set out, the government in Kosovo, the authorities there had to meet a certain range of standards in various areas, as a prelude to formal talks getting under way. There have been clearly grave concerns about human rights issues there. Are you in effect now saying that the urgency means that these standards can in a sense now be relaxed or be set aside, that the urgent thing is to begin the final status negotiations, even if those people who hold administrative power at the moment are not perhaps living up to what we might expect of them?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Yes, it's the logical question to ask. The mantra of the international community until very recently was: "Standards before status." You had to have elementary standards met before the parties could sit down and talk about what the final status of Kosovo would be. I think now sufficient progress has been made on the standards issue that it's now a question of standards and status. The job of meeting standards and achieving them continues. It continues right through and probably after the final status talks. But you've got to get on to status talks.

So how's it going to work? Kofi Annan just appointed a Norwegian diplomat, Kai Eide, who's Norway's Ambassador to NATO, to be the person who spends the summer, the next two or three months, determining whether or not sufficient progress has been made on the ground to warrant final status talks. It's the view of my government that sufficient progress has been made, and if Ambassador Eide determines that, then we would encourage Kofi Annan to convene these final status talks some time this Autumn.

Our view is that they should be led by a European this is a European problem, Kosovo is a part of Europe but that the United States should certainly be involved. So, we would be happy to support a European negotiator with perhaps an American deputy, to put the full weight of our government behind these talks, should Kofi Annan determine they start.

QUESTION: You've said the status quo is unsustainable. Obviously the Kosovo Albanians are very impatient. Will the person in charge of the final status negotiations, perhaps this European governor, will there be a deadline saying that we have to reach an agreement by six months or something? Otherwise it could drag on for another 5 years couldn't it?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: That's a very important tactical decision that the United Nations and the lead negotiators will have to make. You remember what Richard Holbrooke achieved so successfully at Dayton. He did put a time limit on the talks, it was 14 days. It actually took 21, it went into extra time. But I think the fact that Holbrooke's (inaudible) with the parties at Dayton not New York, not Washington, not Boston but at Dayton, an air force base, he got the leaders to agree they wouldn't talk to the press on-the-record. I don't know if you remember this? I was there. I was Spokesman at the time and it was one of my jobs to talk to 400 journalists four times a day about what Milosevic (inaudible) were doing because they were not presenting themselves to you. If you took away that natural competition that comes through the press, not because of you, but because that's what we wish to do sometimes, and you isolate them and you gave them a time limit, that was effective then. Now, whether that will work in these negotiations, that really is a determination that the chief diplomats are going to have to make at the time. It's impossible to say whether what worked ten years ago can work in this very different situation now. And so, no, we don't have a proscribed view as to how that should happen and we're not there yet. We really are at this point of determining whether sufficient progress has been made on standards.

Released on June 8, 2005

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