Ambassador Gelbard: US Getting Reengaged in the Balkans

Novinite Insider » INTERVIEW | December 21, 2005, Wednesday // 00:00
Ambassador Gelbard: US Getting Reengaged in the Balkans Ambassador Robert S. Gelbard. Photo by Yuliana Nikolova (Sofia News Agency)

Robert S. Gelbard was born in New York City in 1944. He has a B.A. (history) from Colby College and M.P.A. (economics) from Harvard University. He also studied economics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

After serving in the Peace Corps in Bolivia (1964- 66), he jointed the Foreign Service in 1967. His overseas assignments have included Manila, Republic of the Philippines (1968-70); Porto Alegre, Brazil (1970-72) as Principal Officer; and Paris, France (1978-82) as First Secretary and Deputy Treasury Representative. In the State Department, he has worked on economic and financial issues in the Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs and the Bureau of European Affairs, and served as Deputy Director for Western European Affairs (1982-84), and Director of Southern Africa Affairs (1984-85). Ambassador Gelbard was Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South America from 1985-88 and Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs from 1991-93. He served as Ambassador to Bolivia from 1988-91.

Ambassador Gelbard has served as the United States representative to the Paris Club, was President Bush's representative preparing for the San Antonio Summit, was a member of numerous United States Government delegations to the OECD and served on the U.S. delegation to the Conference on International Economic Cooperation (the North/South dialogue). He also was detailed part-time to the staff of the President's Council of Economic Advisors in 1978.

Ambassador Gelbard talked to Sofia News Agency Editor Ivelina Puhaleva about Kosovo and the future of the Balkans.

Q: Serbia and Montenegro has just recently signed their Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU. How long do you think would it take to make the next step?

A: They have just started and are in the very beginning of this road - and as Bulgarians know, this is a very complicated road.

Q: For them I think it will be even more complicated so far as they would first decide other important issues, such as Kosovo ...

A: In fact, there are several issues. On the one hand, there are the very complicated obstacles that are normal for the EU. As you know, getting through all the acquis take a long time. The negotiations are very, very difficult. What is more important is that any country has to raise its standards to meet EU standards and it takes a lot of time. For example, it took Bulgaria all the time since 1989.

In addition, Serbia has an obligation both to the EU and to the entire international community, including the UN, to complete the work that needs to be done on war criminals, particularly Mladic and Karadjic, and it needs to strengthen its democratic institutions and it needs to find a complete resolution on the Kosovo issue.

The Kosovo issue, however, is on a completely separate track.

Q: But Kosovo is there - they must find a solution for this problem ...

A: Of course. But what is explicit in this is "Mladic and Karadjic". The Serbian government has done an excellent job over the last year of finally making progress on war criminals. They have really done very serious work in convincing these war criminals to surrender. And obviously, given the political context, it is very difficult and they have managed it with great skill. They have sent a lot of people from Serbia to the Hague, but they also played an extremely constructive role in convincing some of the Bosnian war criminals to go to the Hague. So, they deserve a lot of credit to that.

But there is still work to be done - particularly Mladic. Karadjic probably stands some time in Serbia, but not too much. Mladic - everyone believes - spends a lot of his time in Serbia and he's being supported by lots of people.

I have a lot of confidence in the Serbian government. I think this government has done an extremely good job making the right decision, making serious progress, and I am convinced they will get this done.

The complicating part though is the other part of this "positive nationalism". There is some negative nationalism involved here and that is why the radical party is so popular. The government has done a very good job in terms of moving ahead on economic reform, but - as Bulgarians know - there is always a lag between the time the reforms start and the time the people feel the results.

So, now what Serbia has done is putting in place some outstanding policies. In recent reports both the World Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) said that Serbia has made the most progress than any country in the world in improving the investment climate over the last year. So right now there is an enormous interest on the part of foreign companies in investing in Serbia. Interestingly, the No.1 foreign country that is investing in Serbia is the United States.

Q: Could you mention some successful US investments in Serbia?

A: US Steel has a very big steel plant in Smederevo - and they are very happy.

I am involved in a big project at the airport in Belgrade to build a large cargo and logistic center.

Galaxy Tires has a big investment; Philippe Morris; Microsoft - all of these have invested considerably in Serbia.

The big problem will be keeping the political environment moving in the right direction and demonstrating to the population that this road is the right road and that the radical party does not have the answer.

Q: How would Kosovo be placed in this "picture"?

A: Kosovo is an extremely complicated problem. First of all, it is clearly impossible to go back to where it was. I was involved in all the negotiations with Milosevic on this. In early 1995 when the first massacre started in Drenica, I met with Milosevic and warned him that he was creating a situation that would result in his own destruction. He didn't believe me. We - not just the US, but the whole contact group - tried very hard to convince Milosevic to reach an agreement to solve this problem; he would not do it.

Richard Hallbrok negotiated an agreement with him and Milosevic cheated on it immediately - he never wanted to have an agreement. Milosevic sold out the Serbs in Eastern Slavonia, Kraina, Bosnia - he did not care about his own people, but about one thing: the Milosevic family.

Q: Probably it would take more than a generation to live through this harsh story ...

A: I agree. But it's normal - in countries like this there is always such as "a lingering popularity" of the dictator. It stays for a while.

The Kosovo Albanians have not shown yet enough seriousness to convince the international community that they are ready for independence. The violence against minorities has been extremely disturbing, the lack of progress on building political institutions, on building economic institutions has been very disappointing.

And I must say that UNMIC has been a huge disappointment. The UN has not done a very good job on this until very recently. The current leadership of UNMIC is good.

Q: Do you believe the decision to install a UN protectorate on Kosovo was a good decision?

A: I think it could have been, if it had a good leadership. For example, what is called "pillar four" - the economic side - was under the EU, and it was a disaster. In fact, it was a scandal about the privatization and there was a UN investigation into it.

On the other hand, Serbia has done nothing either to convince people about the change.

I feel extremely positive on the appointment of Marti Ahtisaari by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for UN special envoy for Kosovo. I know him very well - he is outstanding and I believe he is the best choice possible.

The US is also getting reengaged in the Balkans. I was very disappointed that in the first Bush administration, the first four years, the United States pulled away from Serbia and Montenegro, Kosovo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Now I have to stay, Condoleeza Rice and Nicholas Burns are seriously involved.

Just four weeks ago I was present at the celebrations of the Dayton Agreement and Secretary Rice was host at some of the events.

Q: Do you agree with a statement of Nicholas Burns {talking to a Slovenian newspaper over Kosovo} saying it is not now the time to change borders on the Balkans?

A: I am very nervous about changing borders. And I agree with him in this sense. If there is a precedent in changing borders at one place, it might lead to a desire with other people to change border at other places as well. Bosnia for example, Macedonia, some people still talk about Great Albania.

Q: How would then the situation with Kosovo move on?

A: One thing I have learnt as a diplomat is never to answer hypothetical questions. The very hard work is going to be for Ahtisaari and his team - and the whole international community - to start working with people in Kosovo and all the different groups in Kosovo, with Serbia, and with everybody else.

I think it is very important for Bulgaria and other countries in this area to become involved. Bulgaria has strong interests too - in terms of national security especially. It is extremely important to consult Bulgarian government - and other government in the area, to express their view and to play their role.

I had a long conversation with President Parvanov the last time I was here - I was very impressed, a very sophisticated statesman, very understanding of the issues at stake. In fact, I met with him one week before he went to Washington.

What it needs to be is a resolution in a regional context. Kosovo is not a planet or somewhere else, Kosovo is not isolated. Whatever happens with Kosovo has serious implications for Serbia, but not only Serbia.

In a broader context, this issue should be considered in the way it would affect the entire region.

Q: What about Russia?

A: Russia is part of all this. Russia is a member of the contact group and the contact group is deeply involved.

The contact group was established in the beginning of this whole process more than 10 years ago to settle this problem. It includes the United States, and Russia, Germany, France, Great Britain, Italy, the European Commission. Bulgaria has also an interest, through its accession to the EU.

We need your support so can keep delivering news and information about Bulgaria! Thank you!

Interview » Be a reporter: Write and send your article
Bulgaria news (Sofia News Agency - is unique with being a real time news provider in English that informs its readers about the latest Bulgarian news. The editorial staff also publishes a daily online newspaper "Sofia Morning News." (Sofia News Agency - and Sofia Morning News publish the latest economic, political and cultural news that take place in Bulgaria. Foreign media analysis on Bulgaria and World News in Brief are also part of the web site and the online newspaper. News Bulgaria