Interview by Foreign Minister Mrkic to the daily “Politika”: I have several proposals regarding candidates for ambassador to Washington
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Ivan MrkicSerbs in Kosovo enjoy today a much higher level of security than before the Brussels Agreement.

The Brussels decision to grant Serbia the date for starting its EU negotiations has nothing to do with the recognition of Kosovo. I am saying this with full responsibility. I am not sure that I could find more suitable words to make it sound more in the negative.

The decision that we are entering the final phase of the EU membership negotiations is much more complicated, and it was certainly influenced by the policy of this Government and by the Belgrade – Pristina talks.

If anyone thinks, perhaps for sensationalist purposes that, on the eve of the decision on Serbia's joining the EU, Serbia will be conditioned by its recognition of Kosovo, we will not do that, said Serbian Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic in his interview to "Politika", replying to the question as to whether Belgrade – by accepting such negotiations framework – has recognized the independence of Kosovo and Metohija.

How else are we to understand the formulation contained in the negotiation framework that, in its future decision-making, Belgrade will have to respect the "geographic framework"?

Read Resolution 1244, it says that. All the governments so far acted in line with this Resolution, including the government that was in power at the time when the Resolution was adopted.

Are you trying to say that, until now, we have not been passing laws effective also in the territory of Kosovo?

Which Government signed the agreement with CEFTA, a comprehensive regional trade agreement? It was not this Government. We are only carrying out what previous governments have agreed to, for the continuity of the formerly undertaken state commitments must be respected. There is no news. It is an integral territorial entity under Resolution 1244. It is also true that we were not present there with our security forces.

Nor have we been present with our laws, as you said.

Our presence there will now be more evident. This must be understood. It is now for the first time that the Serbian presence there is internationally legalized. Now there is a Serbian community there, Serbian municipalities that everyone recognizes, which have their powers enabling them to act according to their own interests. Pristina must respect that. Now that we have accomplished this, some say: "You have given in". Who has given in? Serbs are much more secure today than they were before these negotiations and before the Brussels Agreement, and everything that followed.

If that is so, then there will not be a problem for us to sign an agreement on comprehensive normalization of relations with Kosovo.

Our goal is to fully normalize the situation, in order that life goes on, that trade is conducted and everyone enjoys freedom of movement. We emphasized that, many times. With everything that has been going on over the past year, the climate has improved.

If we don't have a problem to talk about that Agreement, why are diplomats in Brussels still unwilling to talk about it, why is it still for them a taboo?

They are formalists. We are known for our mentality, which is a little bit chaotic. They are waiting for the text, for the decision of their superiors. When they get it, they will make some comments, but within a strictly defined framework. They are all highly committed bureaucrats and every one of them strictly abides by their area of responsibility. We, however, tend to immediately draw various conclusions from this lack of comments.

Does your approach maintain Jeremic's doctrine of four pillars of foreign policy?

I wouldn't go into making this kind of definitions. In the meantime, we have worked on implementing our foremost foreign policy priority. And our foremost priority is EU accession, and we reached it. Another priority was also to have excellent relations with the USA, Russia and China. Have our relations with these countries improved over the past year and a half? Yes, they have. How many things have been going on along the lines of Belgrade – Washington....?

We don't have an ambassador in Washington?

The Ambassador in Washington completed his term of office on 2 December 2013. Do you think that something happened in those twenty days? That's insignificant. Do you know how often we have to wait here for six months for the arrival of some ambassadors? Do you think that this had a negative impact on our relations with those countries? Drawing attention to the fact that the appointment of the recent ambassador has terminated and that a new ambassador has not yet taken up his duties indicates lack of knowledge and understanding of the diplomatic practice. It is sometimes better even to have a good charge d'affaires ad interim that to appoint an ambassador on any account. It is customary, however, to have an intermission period before the assumption of duties of the new ambassador, usually around six weeks.

Does that mean that you are waiting for those six weeks to expire?

I don't know. I will make a proposal. I have a potential candidate on my mind, but I will not disclose who it is. In fact, I have more than one proposal to make. That will be decided upon in the second half of January. In somewhat more than a year, we replaced 56 heads of diplomatic missions; mostly because their term had expired, whereas some were recalled before the end of their term, because we were dissatisfied with their performance and unprofessional attitude towards their duties. There were also some cases of behaviour uncommon to an ambassador, who is generally expected to be the worthiest representative of his own country, who will make sure not to be disrespectful of the host country. We have filled in ninety percent of the vacancies, mostly by career diplomats from the Foreign Ministry, which has certainly not been the case for two decades.

Is the candidate for Washington also a career diplomat?

I will not reveal that. I always take as a point of departure to propose someone from the MFA, if possible. Such positions were previously filled in by persons recruited from political parties or through personal connections.

Because of some appointments of this kind, the public got an impression that the requirements for "entering" the Foreign Ministry are not qualifications, but something else........

This is all incorrect, absolutely incorrect. It is untrue and I will no longer comment on such malicious statements. No one was admitted to the Foreign Ministry unlawfully or in violation of any regulations.

So, you think that the above persons were appropriate for the job?

They were, by all means, better than others figuring as an option at a particular moment. I am absolutely sure about that. In our service, everyone must be much more conscientious and responsible in their conduct than in other services, because we are always in the spotlight. It is perhaps for that reason that you are more focused on the MFA. Who knows what you would come across if you were to look elsewhere? That is why our relevant officials react, whenever they see that someone is not meeting the requirements in whatever respect. Do you know how many people we recalled from our missions abroad because they forgot why they had gone there? They refuse to talk to our citizens and turn down foreign invitations to attend various functions because of their laziness, etc.

How would you describe the year drawing to a close in terms of foreign policy?

If we compare 2013 with 2012, it will be clear to everyone what has been done. Remember 2012 and all the uncertainties, prejudices and forecasts regarding us as a nation and Serbia as a state. Now let's go to 2013 and make a comparison, in every respect. You will see that the situation is so much better, beyond comparison. We have achieved exceptionally good relations with all those who were important to us, one way or another, our neighbours, in the first place, and Europe as well. The President of the Republic visited China and signed a strategic document there. China is carrying out more business projects in Serbia than anywhere else in Europe. President Nikolic met several times with President Putin, and I also had meetings with FM Sergey Lavrov. Our President also met with President Obama, Joseph Biden, Secretary of State Kerry... Prime Minister Dacic had a meeting with Vice President Biden and a number of US officials; he also had an opportunity to visit the leading US companies. When was that possible? Hillary Clinton visited Serbia. Deputy Prime Minister Vucic visited the US where Leon Panetta welcomed him with the guard of honour; do you remember that happening before? Aleksandar Vucic was received with highest honours in Germany, as well....

Fresh air in Obrenovac, thanks to Japan.

Therefore, those Jeremic's "four pillars" do exist.

These are no "four pillars". Everything that I am talking about does not mean that we ever neglect other countries. We visited Latin America and Cuba. We have plans for great medical projects with these countries. This Ministry has done, signed and started the implementation of at least 50 inter-state agreements.

I had more than 200 meetings with my fellow Foreign Ministers, Prime Ministers too, as well as other high officials. As a result of my efforts, though not only mine, we have been extended by Japan a loan of 260 million euro with a grace period of some five years and an interest rate of 0.6 per cent. This is the most favourable loan in history.

Owing to this loan, Obrenovac will have fresh air by 2015. We are endeavouring to be granted an additional loan by Japan for the purpose of building a factory for the treatment of waste water and completing the sewage system in Belgrade, under the above most favourable financial terms.

We will also assume the Chairmanship-in-Office of the OSCE. We have recently been elected to membership of the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. Serbia, which used to be known for problems, is now urged to address the problems of others. Isn't that a compliment for our diplomacy?

Our diplomacy is not known for scarcely dressed associates, but for hard work and requirements for even harder work, because we believe that our diplomacy can do something very good for the country.

It is still early for a UN Secretary General candidate.

Former Slovenian President Danilo Turk is being referred to as a possible candidate for the UN Secretary General and there are speculations also that Vuk Jeremic could be a candidate as well. If it so happens, will he be supported by our diplomacy?

No one can enter the race unless they are supported by their governments. If our Government estimates that we stand a chance, I suppose that we will nominate our candidate for the office and make an effort to succeed.

There will surely be regional agreements as well, because everything is decided on the basis of the principle of regional representation. And when the turn comes for our region, we will try to reach an agreement and propose a single candidate. If we fail, we will put it to the vote.

It is now too soon to tell whether Jeremic will be interested at all in something like that. However, we are so far away from that point in time, because UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon still has three more years in office.

Had I embezzled the money from Cyprus, I wouldn't be working for 800 euro a month.

The story of the Serbian money that allegedly ended up in Cyprus is once again the focus of public attention. At that time you were the Ambassador to Cyprus?

I've been accused that I was involved in misappropriating $17 billion, which was cut down to $13 billion, and revised downwards again to I don't know how much. Then, I would be a unique case of someone who works here for EUR 800, who has imposed the harshest savings measures in this institution, watching who travels and where and how much money is spent for all purposes. I cut five times the travel costs compared to my predecessors, and therefore I would not comment on these false allegations any more.

Do you think that a state could call itself a state if such cases are not investigated? I spent six years in Cyprus, and of these six years I served more than three years as the only diplomat there. Now you can imagine how it is easy to manufacture stories about the existence of a whole organization behind supposedly pulling all the strings...

Is that what you think that I saw any monies there? This is so preposterous. As far as I know, payments were made through Cyprus, but for the state needs. I had no way of knowing what was bought. Those who believed in the existence of some money, as was the case with Minister Dinkic, went to Cyprus.

And how come they did not find it? Maybe, some treasure trove lies buried there and now we're only waiting for someone to dig up the banknotes? I've never heard of a myth that is being fed for so long on no evidence at all.

Qatar is investing in sports medicine.

I am considering the possibility of engaging Alisa Maric to assist in the development of international sports cooperation. We need someone knowledgeable in this field and she is the one with international experience.

Otherwise, when it comes to sports cooperation it should be noted that we supported the idea to bring Qatar here because it has the largest centre for sports medicine in the world. They have chosen our Centre for Sports Medicine, and decided to invest here, to locate their branch in this part of the world. The investment will be worth one million. One day, the world's greatest athletes will come to Kosutnjak for medical examination and treatment there.

Tags: USA Ivan Mrkic