Congressmen say focus on ‘unfinished business’ in Balkans
By Brian Beary in Washington | Friday 11 March 2011
As efforts continue to reconcile all Balkan countries and integrate them into the EU, US lawmakers have urged the Obama administration to step up its role in pushing the process forward. “The work in the Balkans is not finished until they are all integrated into the EU and NATO,” said Rep. Dan Burton (Republican, Indiana), newly-elected chair of the House Subcommittee on Europe and Eurasia, at a hearing, on 9 March. Burton, who recently visited the Balkans, said Washington should concentrate in particular on building long-term peace between Kosovo and Serbia. He voiced concern over attacks on the ethnic Serb minority in Kosovo and their monasteries. Burton argued that if there was violence against the Serbs of Kosovo, “it should impact on Kosovo’s membership prospects”.
His Democrat colleague, Eliot Engel (New York), the former subcommittee chair, also called for the US to be “totally engaged” in the Balkans, warning that when it was not, “things tend not go right”. He added “we have to be there for fairness to prevail”. Engel, a long-time supporter of Kosovo’s independence, said that while he wanted both Serbia and Kosovo to join the EU, Serbia should not be admitted first because it could then block Kosovo’s entry. He wanted Kosovo “to remain a multi-ethnic community with an Albanian majority and minority rights” for the Serbs of Kosovo. Responding to their concerns, Phil Gordon, US assistant secretary for European and Eurasian affairs, stressed that the US was involved in the new, EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia talks and asserted that Serb-Kosovar relations were moving in the right direction.
Eastern Europe was the other area of major concern raised at the hearing. Chairman Burton sought assurances from Assistant Secretary Gordon that the Obama administration’s decision to “hit the reset button” with Russia in 2009 has not been at the expense of the Baltic countries, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. Gordon insisted that the Baltic trio also benefited from the warmer relationship between Washington and Moscow. He added that the US administration remained opposed to Russia having “spheres of influence” in its neighbourhood. Congressman Gregory Meeks (Democrat, New York) was worried that the administration’s plans to substantially cut the State Department’s budget next year would adversely impact democracy promotion efforts in Eastern Europe, notably in Ukraine. Gordon assured him that the democracy-promotion programmes were being kept.
CALL FOR EU-US ACTION ON LIBYA
Chair Burton urged the US and the EU to move quicker to create a no-fly zone in Libya to end the bloodshed caused by Libyan leader Moammar Gaddafi’s violent crackdown on the ongoing popular revolt against his regime. “People are getting killed every day,” he said. Gordon stressed that “NATO is actively planning” for this but that it needed political leaders’ authorisation beforehand.