The National Committee on American Foreign Policy
Kosova & the Road to Peace in the Balkans
April 23, 2007
Introduction by Moderator, Shirley Cloyes DioGuardi,
Balkan Affairs Adviser, Albanian American Civic League
Thank you Dr. Schwab for your introduction, and thanks to you and the officers of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy for convening this important forum tonight.
The timing of this discussion could not be more significant. With the submission earlier this month to the UN Security Council of Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal for the resolution of Kosova’s final status, we are on the eve of the culmination of a twenty-year effort to change U.S. and European foreign policy in a way that will begin to resolve the Albanian dimension of the Balkan conflict and bring lasting peace and stability to all the peoples of Southeast Europe.
No present and former members of the U.S. Congress exemplify that effort more than our speakers, Tom Lantos and Joe DioGuardi, along with former Congressman Ben Gilman, who is also with us tonight.
The timing of this meeting is significant because it is taking place on the heels of last week’s full House Committee on Foreign Affairs hearing on the outlook for Kosova’s independence, led by Chairman Lantos. The sole witness at this hearing was Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, and his testimony marked a major turning point in the position of the State Department, which in 1987, sent a letter to then House International Relations Committee Chairman Dante Fascell that he should not proceed with a hearing on the rights of Albanians in Yugoslavia because it might inflame the government in Belgrade, which was promising reforms.
But there were no reforms, only escalating oppression of the 92 percent Albanian majority population of Kosova. For those of us on this panel and for millions of people around the world, it was gratifying to hear Ambassador Burns say last Tuesday that the United States was “right to oppose Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic’s attempted ethnic cleansing of over one million Kosovar Albanians in the late 1990s,” that the United States was “right to keep our troops alongside of our NATO allies in Bosnia and Kosova to maintain the peace,” and “that we must now act quickly in the next weeks and months to finish the job by helping to lead Kosova to independence.”
The timing of this forum is also significant, because it is both Congress and the United Nations that will play a pivotal role in implementing what is being recommended by Martti Ahtisaari as a “supervised independence” for Kosova and in launching it as a state. Today a delegation from the UN Security Council met in Brussels, after which they will visit Belgrade and Prishtina before beginning a debate on the Ahtisaari proposal at UN headquarters next week. The delegation was an idea put forth by Russia, which as we know is threatening to veto the Ahtisaari plan. How important Russian recalcitrance will be, is not yet clear.
What we do know is that a diplomatic effort is underway to achieve the maximum level of consensus in the UN to launch Kosova as a state in order to avoid future turmoil. Already the United States is working on a new resolution to replace UN Resolution 1244 that has governed Kosova as a UN protectorate since war’s end eight years ago, and it has announced that it is committed to recognizing Kosova’s independence no matter what Russia ultimately decides to do.
One final comment: After 500 years of Ottoman occupation, followed by roughly 50 years of Communism, we have the emergence of Albanians and other peoples in the Balkans seeking democracy, freedom, and economic progress as part of a secure and unified European continent. Will the passage of the Ahtisaari plan bring us closer to achieving this goal? And will the implementation of the plan lead to the birth of a new nation whole, free, and at peace? These are the principal questions.
With that, I want to turn to Congressman Lantos.