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Diplomacy in Action

Interview With News Agencies

Philip H. Gordon
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina
June 14, 2011


ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: Welcome. Maybe I’ll just say a couple of very brief things at the beginning and then I’ll look forward to your questions.

I’m very pleased to be back in Bosnia and Herzegovina. I think you know, spoke at a conference this morning and have spent the day meeting at the tri-presidency, meeting with a number of party leaders and others, and I hope my visit will be seen as a sign of the United States’ continued engagement and interest in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We’ve invested a lot over the past years in this country and remain committed to its success, remain committed to its aspirations to join Euro-Atlantic institutions, and I wanted to express that strong support which I did publicly and to a number of the individuals that I met with.

I also came to express an interest in the formation of a state level government. I won’t hide that we in the United States are frustrated at the amount of time it has taken. The last visit I made to Bosnia and Herzegovina was with Secretary Clinton last October which was just after the elections which we hoped would quickly lead to the formation of a functional government that could start tackling the very real challenges that this country faces. Now eight months have gone by in the mean time without such a government and I wanted to talk to party leaders about their ideas for how to put such a government in place.

I was encouraged to hear that the party leaders agree that it’s not in the interest of the country to have a vacuum at that level, to not have a government, but I was disappointed at the lack of progress and encourage them to think creatively and get together in the interest of the country as a whole.

I also came and expressed the United States’ strong and ongoing support for the Dayton institutions and the Office of High Representative. There have been various challenges to those institutions in particular over the past year, and I’m including in that recent or earlier RS legislation on state property and more recently the April 13th proposed referendum and conclusions and I think we were very clear at the time that we found that proposed referendum and conclusions unacceptable and inconsistent with Dayton and that we supported the OHR in rejecting that approach. We made that clear at the time and I underscored that it remains our view that those conclusions are inconsistent with Dayton and we would continue to back the High Representative in his approach to the issue.

So those are some of the messages that I conveyed and some of the issues that I discussed. Again, the overall point is that we remain engaged and committed. We want to see Bosnia and Herzegovina as a full-fledged and thriving member of the European Union and NATO. Ultimately a lot more work needs to be done. We will stand ready to help in every way we can, but it is something that the leaders of the country and the people of the country are going to have to take responsibility for. We will be with them as they do so.

I’m happy to take your questions.

QUESTION: Today you had an opportunity to meet with several political leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Are you optimistic after these discussions that Bosnia and Herzegovina could in near future, by the end of June, agree on parliamentary majority at the state level?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I did meet with a lot of party leaders and talked about the urgency of forming a government. As I noted, I was encouraged to hear all of them committed to forming a government. They all seem to recognize that this country cannot do without a state level government, there are real issues that need to be tackled on behalf of all of the people of the country and they expressed interest in doing so which was welcome news.

I was, however, disappointed that they didn’t seem to be near a solution, that so much time has gone by without it, that they remain dug in on certain positions and inflexible which might be in the interest of their party or their ethnic group but not in the interest of the country as a whole which is precisely the approach that we’re encouraging. That is to say encouraging leaders to think about the people of the country as a whole and the success of the country as a whole and not narrow political interests. So I was disappointed in that.

I don’t want to put a timetable on it. I do think that they understand that this needs to get done. I think it would be too optimistic to say the end of June or any other near term deadline, but I can tell you that we are going to continue both to press them to do so and to offer whatever ideas we might have that would help, but ultimately the responsibility is for the leaders.

QUESTION: After the government is formed and the entities, can you tell us what the United States expects from this government? The new government is made up of old parties, the SDP is the only new party. So what does the United States expect after the formation of the government? What do they expect from the new government? The fact is that the new government is made by all the parties of which the old government was made except for SDP and that period, past period, the main characteristic was the lack of reforms implemented and needed for Euro-Atlantic path for Bosnia and Herzegovina.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I think we would expect similar things from whatever government that may be formed. Again, it’s not really a question of what we expect, it’s what the country needs and what the people of the country expect, but I think we all know what the issues are. You concluded your question by referencing the European Union and that I think is near the top of anyone’s list. There are a set of measures that would be expected of any government dealing with the EU accession process, dealing with the question of a census and state aid and Sejdic-Finci and whatever the stripe or composition of the government they’re going to have to take steps to deal with those issues to move this country down the path towards the European Union.

Also in the context of joining Euro-Atlantic institutions there’s the NATO question, and a government we hope would tackle the question of fixed defense properties which, as you know, is the precondition for the Membership Action Plan process to begin which will be a very positive thing for the country.

There’s the question of a deal with the IMF for which a state level government is necessary and which would benefit the economy as a whole. I made references in my speech to slow growth and economic problems that would need to be tackled by this government.

Beyond that there are other questions of governmental reform and efforts to make the government more functional and effective. I think you could come up with a whole list of things that any government would have to tackle, but first things first, you need a government in place before any of these issues can be dealt with.

QUESTION: Does the U.S. administration, current administration, have some new proposals for Bosnia and Herzegovina when it comes to constitutional reforms? We had Butmir package of measures and it failed and recently there were certain statements in the media and certain initiatives in relation to a new conference that will be called Dayton II.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: First, just to be clear, we have no plans for anything resembling or known as Dayton II which implies a major international conference, restructuring or structuring a constitutional system and institutions. Dayton I was a set of measures to end the war and to set up a country and no reform program that I’m familiar with is being considered in Europe or the United States to do anything remotely like that. Indeed, as I said, we support the Dayton institutions that are already in place and we’re not proposing to replace it with anything. So I don’t know where that notion comes from but there’s no plan for a Dayton II.

In terms of constitutional reform or other types of reforms, I would say what I said about government formation. It’s not for the United States to come in with a plan. One of the things we’re trying to do is encourage this country to, and its leaders, to act in the interests of the country as a whole. To do that, the views of all of its constituents need to be represented. Nothing can be imposed on the different peoples and entities. Therefore you’re not going to hear the United States come up with the plan for constitutional reform. Sure, we can help, we can provide ideas, we have a lot of experience with this sort of thing, we have constitutional experts. So does the European Union. The European Union has advised a lot of transition countries on setting up their legal systems, judicial structures, and we’re more than ready to offer such thoughts and creative ideas. But we’re not in the business of putting forward plans and ultimately they would have to be agreed to by the parties in the country. Again, I said the same thing about government formation. We can offer thoughts, creative ideas, paths forward, but we can’t do it for them.

QUESTION: My next question would be in that context as well. Recently in Banja Luka the structural dialogue on reform of judiciary started with the European Union. Does the United States intend with advice or in any other form to support the judicial reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: We will be supportive. I think the structure dialogue specifically is an EU process that exists and has been used in other candidate countries, and we don’t have a direct role in it. We do support it because I think this process has demonstrated in the past that it can help countries improve the functioning of their judicial systems which is an absolutely critical measure in their success. And the EU has a pretty good track record in this. I think the enlargement process itself has been very positive in helping countries fight corruption, reform their judiciaries, and install the rules of law. If that can help in Bosnia and Herzegovina then it’s a good thing and we very much support it even though we’re not going to have a direct role in it.

QUESTION: Another question related to the recent tensions caused in Bosnia and Herzegovina related to the decision of RSNA on referendum and referendum on imposed decisions of HR. It was pulled back when the dialogue on reform of judiciary started, but the conclusions of the RSNA are still valid.

Do you think that by not pulling back these conclusions the story on referendum remains topical?

ASSISTANT SECRETARY GORDON: I can only speak for the United States and we’ve been pretty clear about that. We said that the referendum was a direct challenge to Dayton that was not acceptable and needed to be dropped. I’ve heard different references to the degree to which it has been abandoned. I know that Mr. Dodik said it was dropped for now, which raises some prospect of bringing it back up, but I can tell you that were it to be brought up our view of it would be the same as it was when it was brought up in the first place, that it’s an unacceptable challenge to the Dayton institutions and the High Representative would be fully within his rights and obligations to oppose it. Our view of that hasn’t changed and won’t change in the future.

QUESTION: Thank you.


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