Engel Remarks on U.S. Policy toward Kosova

Mar 22, 2017 – WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today delivered the following remarks in the United States House of Representatives regarding American policy toward Kosova:

“Mr. Speaker: an Olympic gold medal; ground-breaking international conferences on religious cooperation and tolerance; membership in the World Bank, the IMF, and other international bodies; and recognition by more than 110 countries. These are only some of the accomplishments of the young nation of Kosova, or Kosova, as I have often referred to it.

“The United States was among the first to recognize Kosova and today we are its strongest backer, and rightfully so. First recognized by President Bush, relations only deepened under President Obama. For that, Kosova proudly has become the strongest supporter of the United States in Europe, sitting at an 85 percent approval rating.

“This is not to say that Kosova is a perfect country. We’re not a perfect country. Corruption needs to be attacked in Kosova, judicial reform is progressing far too slowly, and official unemployment hovers at just above 30 percent. So there’s hard work to be done. There’s obviously a lot of work to do.

“But I’ve visited this country again and again and again and again, and every time, I see progress, and I know there’s a bright future. I’ve often said that as an American I can go all around the world, but I’ll never get greeted with more love and friendship than I will in Kosova. People there truly love Americans and all things American.

“So the best way to help Kosova is through continued, strong support, as the United States has done for many years. But too many impediments stand in the way—many of them coming from outside of Kosova’s borders.

“For example, Kosova wants what most countries across the region want: to become part of a secure and integrated Europe—membership in the European Union and NATO. Yet just five European holdouts stand in the way of this progress for Kosova. And when it comes to United Nations membership, Kosova’s way forward is blocked by Serbia and its ally Russia.

“In fact, Serbia seeks to block Kosova at almost every turn, and lately has been escalating tensions. Both Serbia and Kosova want to go to the European Union and I support both of them getting into the European Union. But one of those countries shouldn’t try to block another one, and Serbia has repeatedly tried to make it difficult for Kosova to get into the EU and to get other things as well.

“Serbia recently sent into Kosova’s north a propaganda train emblazoned with the words ‘Serbia is Kosova’—written in 21 languages—to foment discord among Kosova’s small Serbian population. It pushed the building of a wall in Mitrovica, a tiny city straddling the cleavages of Kosova’s interethnic divide. While that wall has now come down, the scars remain. Serbia has continued to deny justice to the loved ones of hundreds of victims of its campaign of ethnic cleansing, including three American citizens, the Bytici brothers. And there is all kind of insults from a train and other things, giving propaganda against Kosova by Serbia, pushed to the Serbian-Kosova border that helps to escalate tensions rather than bring them down.

“As a result of a Serbian INTERPOL arrest warrant, French authorities recently detained former Kosova Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who has already been acquitted twice by an international tribunal. You know, we in the United States have this wonderful thing of no double jeopardy. If you go trial and you’re acquitted, you cannot be tried on the same thing again. That isn’t true of many countries. And so, Ramush Haradinaj was accused of war crimes, went to The Hague, spent many many weeks and months there, was acquitted, and then was recharged again and had to go back to The Hague to have another trial, on which he was again acquitted. Now Serbia has manipulated INTERPOL to try to get a third trial on the same, on essentially the same matter, for Ramush Haradinaj again. This to me is unconscionable and shows tremendous bad faith on the part of the Serbian government.

“Serbia also fought Kosova’s membership in UNESCO—ultimately, a self-defeating act, because among Kosova’s most cherished historic cultural institutions are its 13th-century Serbian Orthodox Churches. Kosova did not get into UNESCO. It failed by three votes and again the Serbian interruption played a major role in preventing them from getting into UNESCO. The United States fought to have Kosova into UNESCO, but ultimately again lost by three votes.

“Kosova and Serbia have sat down across the negotiating table in talks facilitated by the European Union. Those talks showed some progress. They resulted in an agreement calling for normalization. I even nominated, at that time, the Prime Ministers of Kosova and Serbia, along with the EU’s former foreign policy head, Baroness Catherine Ashton, for the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Unfortunately, today, I question these successes. What kind of normalization involves stoking tensions among a neighbor’s minority population and standing in the way of international integration? That’s what Serbia is doing to Kosova, and it should be stopped.

“And you know in terms of Ramush Haradinaj, trying to try him again, I don’t know why the government of Serbia seems intent on rekindling twenty- and thirty-year-old Balkan wars. There were terrible things that happen in war and terrible things that happened on both sides, but the man was found innocent twice, and this is nothing more than bad faith on the part of the Serbian government and harassment.

“It might come as a surprise to you, Mr. Speaker, but nine years on as a free and independent country, Kosova still has no army. That’s right: a sovereign nation-state without an army. It has a small, lightly-armed Security Force, but nothing resembling the large, Russian-equipped Serbian military just next door.

“Earlier this month, Kosova took a small step toward establishing its army: legislation was submitted to parliament. Like the legislative process here in the United States, the introduction of a bill is only the opening note on a much larger and longer sheet of music, a score which involves consultation with regional partners, the international community, domestic minorities, and NGOs.

“We all know how this process works. There’s back and forth. There’s give and take. Supporters and opponents alike are welcome into the arena, and all positions are heard. The process accounts for everybody’s concerns in some way or another.

“So what’s in this proposal? What would Kosova’s army look like?

“It would be multiethnic, just as the Kosova Security Force and the Kosova Police are now. It would partner with western countries and, hopefully, NATO in pursuit of greater regional and international stability. It would be defensive and non-threatening to Kosova’s neighbors.

“Mr. Speaker, it would be exactly what the United States wants to see in a partner.

“Yet, while Kosova slowly moves to set up its small defensive force, Serbia is beefing up its military with full Russian backing. It is taking deliveries of T-72 tanks, MIG-29 fighters, and S-300 anti-aircraft missile systems, courtesy of Moscow and Vladimir Putin.

“So I’m a little confused, Mr. Speaker.

“Kosova, a country we support and which supports us, wants what every other country in the world has: a basic army, in which its citizens can serve their nation, and probably serve alongside our own military if given the chance. What do we do? We offer rebukes and diplomatic threats. We make it clear that we don’t support Kosova having an army at this time. That is absolutely absurd and is a position that we ought to change and change quickly.

“Yet Russian weapons and materiel are pouring into Serbia, courtesy of Vladimir Putin. And as far as I can tell, the United States has stood in silence.

“So regardless, Mr. Speaker, America’s relations with Kosova are strong and the future is bright. We need to stay on that course. Kosova is a young country, and I have been there many many times. It’s not even ten years old. We know better than anyone that building a democracy is hard work. Sometimes you’ll face setbacks. Sometimes you need a helping hand. That’s why American support is more important than ever. That’s why the United States should work to deepen our ties, enrich our mutual understanding, and continue to bring stability to the entire Balkan region. That’s the way to a more prosperous, democratic, and multi-ethnic Kosova, and that’s the way for the United States to see a Balkan region free, at peace, and part of the whole of Europe.

“Meanwhile, France should send Ramush Haradinaj home. Enough is enough already. We cannot stand for anymore of this nonsense.

“The United States should stand by Kosova. Kosova is a free and independent country. For many years they were fed all sorts of lies about the United States during the old communist regime in the ‘50s and ‘60s and ‘70s, but you know what? The people of Kosova didn’t believe a word of it. So I would say to my colleagues, and to my friends, and to all of our American citizens, when you visit Kosova you’ll know and you’ll be proud to be an American, because people come up to you in the street want to touch you, want to talk to you, want to do everything and be everything American. And those are the types of friends that we need.

“America does much for many many people around the world, many many nations, and sometimes we feel it is not appreciated. But not in Kosova. Everything that the United States has helped that country with is appreciated from everyone, from the Prime Minister to the President, to people in government, to the average people in the street. I very often have people coming up to me in the street, wanting to talk to me, they recognize me. They say, “Thank you. Thank you to America for standing by us for our independence. Thank you to America for being strong and keeping us strong.” And so those are the kinds of friends I want to have. Those are the types of people I want to have.

“So I would say to the people of Kosova and the government of Kosova: the United States stands by you and always will stand by you. And I would say to the government of Serbia: we support the aspirations of the Serbian people to enter the European Union, but Serbia ought to stop doing what it’s doing to block Kosova. Serbia ought to stop its belligerent moves against Kosova. Both countries should go into the European Union, and eventually NATO. And each one should not help, not stop each other, they should help each other.”