The Washington Times, April 23, 2009
Serbia seeks Bosnian self-rule
Serbia's chief diplomat said Wednesday that it may be time for Bosnia's governing structure, set up by the 1995 Dayton peace accords, to be changed to allow for true self-rule instead of the current U.N.-appointed "viceroy."
Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic told editors and reporters at The Washington Times that he wants to assure the Obama administration that his country is not like Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia, known to many Clinton administration officials from the 1990s who are now back in government.
However, on the two Balkan issues most important to the new administration - Bosnia and Kosovo - Mr. Jeremic offered positions that were not likely to receive a warm reception in Washington.
He said it is "bizarre" and "illogical" that a U.N. protectorate "run by a viceroy," which has been Bosnia's legal status since 1995, will become a member of the U.N. Security Council in January.
"We have to decide if we are going to let democracy play out in Bosnia ... or we can say, 'This is not a country, this is a protectorate and we are going to impose a high representative with gubernatorial powers, like a viceroy of India. Maybe we need this, but let's then stop pretending that this is a country," Mr. Jeremic said.
"Let's decide if this is going to be a protectorate or a democracy," he said. "We believe in the democracy option, and I want to talk to people in the administration about that."
A senior U.S. official said the administration does not agree with Mr. Jeremic's position and believes that the Dayton arrangements, which ended an ethnic war, should be kept in place.
The official, who asked not to be named because he was not authorized to speak publicly, conceded that the current governing structure - in which Muslims, Croats and Serbs rotate for the country's presidency - is problematic. However, the U.N. representative is needed to break frequent deadlocks on significant matters among the three ethnic groups, he said.
"Structurally, it's so hard in Bosnia to get anything done that we are scratching our heads how to do that," the official said, adding that Bosnia is the "focus of our Balkan policy."
Western diplomats in Belgrade say Mr. Jeremic's position on the U.N. representative differs from that of Serbian President Boris Tadic, who supports the Dayton arrangements.
Mr. Jeremic said the situation in Bosnia is not as dangerous as some Western countries have been implying in recent months.
He warned against suggestions that the country, which was part of the former Yugoslavia, is on the verge of disintegrating along ethnic lines.
On Kosovo, which declared independence last year, the minister said Belgrade would vigorously pursue its case in the International Court of Justice against the independence declaration and thought the court would side with Serbia.
He acknowledged that the issue remains a thorn in ties with Washington and is not likely to be resolved soon, but it must not prevent the two countries from working together on ensuring stability in the Balkans.
"Relations are good, except for this one big thing where we profoundly disagree," he said.
Mr. Jeremic said he was not granted a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton because she was busy. Instead, he will meet with her deputy, James Steinberg, on Thursday.
However, the senior U.S. official said the reason was insufficient Serbian cooperation in building Kosovo's capacity in the justice, police and customs areas.
Those efforts are being led by a European Union rule-of-law mission. There are Serbian representatives in the Kosovo police in the mixed south, but not in the predominantly Serbian north, the U.S. official said.
"The trend is in the right direction, but there is a long way to go in terms of substance," the official said.