A Conversation with Vuk Jeremic

TNI editor Nikolas Gvosdev sits down with Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.

Editor's note: Nikolas Gvosdev, editor of The National Interest, is currently in Serbia to attend the 2007 Seminar sponsored by the Belgrade Fund for Political Excellence, which is focusing on how best to promote stability and regional integration in the Western Balkans. While there, he has had the opportunity to meet with a number of senior officials, among them the Foreign Minister, Vuk Jeremic. He files this report for National Interest online from Belgrade.

I had the opportunity to meet Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic once before, in Washington, DC, when he was a senior advisor to President Boris Tadic. He struck me then as a man of vision, with a firm understanding of Serbia's national interests and how to advance Serbia's complete integration into both the European and Euro-Atlantic communities. We discussed a range of issues, including Kosovo, and this meeting reaffirmed my impression that his views on that subject are very principled. (I might also note, that, as far as I can tell, his position is the one held by all other mainstream political actors in the country.)

He observed, "The future status of Kosovo and Metohija is a matter of paramount importance" not simply for Serbia and its immediate neighbors, but to the stability and well-being of the entire Balkans and indeed of Europe as a whole.

He stressed that "the Ahtisaari Plan, as submitted to the Security Council, embraces a maximalist solution-the independence of Kosovo-that is nothing other than the forced partition of Serbia." He went on to say that if the plan were endorsed by the Security Council, "it would be the first time in contemporary history that territory would be taken away from a sovereign country without the consent of its democratically elected authorities, in order to satisfy the secessionist aspirations of a particular ethnic group."

He believes that the proposal advanced by Serbia "both respects the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Serbia" but also provides a way for the ethnic Albanians of Kosovo to "satisfy their legitimate demand for substantial self-governance." The goal should be to avoid a "maximalist solution that produces winners and losers."

The Foreign Minister is also concerned that, despite protestations to the contrary, a "dangerous precedent would be created" that would have serious and negative ramifications not only for the region but for the "entire architecture of the international order." I might add, I share those concerns.

Nevertheless, he remains hopeful that a "window of opportunity" still exists that could lead to "further talks aimed at achieving a compromise", a solution that would be mutually acceptable to all parties.

His approach to Kosovo is grounded in a larger vision, a set of "strategic imperatives" based on strengthening democracy at home and consolidating regional stability. He noted, though, that without the concrete prospect of membership in the European Union being made available to all the states of the Balkans, "the external incentives to reform disappear" which in turn could lead to a return of strife and conflict. He sees as one of his goals, both for Serbia and during his chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, to promote the prospects for EU membership for the states of the Western Balkans "by working to strengthen regional cooperation and fostering regional cohesion", a goal, I might add, which would certainly serve U.S. national interests as well.

One of the points he wanted to convey was that "democracy cannot flourish without a full and open account of the past" and that, as a result, Serbia "is strongly committed to full and immediate cooperation with the ICTY [International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia]", further noting that "all indictees must be located, arrested and extradited."

I left my meeting with a sense of optimism that, despite very real challenges that are on the table, the United States has in the new government in Serbia a partner for advancing common interests-and I hope that Washington will not squander the opportunity.