Nick Burns on Kosovo's Independence

It’s probably fair to say that fewer states have recognized Kosovo today, a day after its Declaration of Independence, than had been expected or hoped.  Many are probably holding off until the results of an open UN Security Council meeting that is to start today.

Today, Nick Burns took questions from journalists in various parts of the world via a State-Department-organized teleconference press briefing.

Among other things, he said that the vast majority of the members of the EU and of NATO will be recognizing Kosovo’s independence today.

His remarks are breath-taking, and are worth quoting in their near-entirety here:


Teleconference Briefing on Kosovo
Washington, DC
February 18, 2008

Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nick Burns

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Okay, on the record. Thanks. Hello, everyone. This is Nick Burns.

This is obviously a historic day for the people of Kosovo and, as you know, Secretary Rice has just issued her statement of congratulations, of recognition. So the United States is today formally recognizing Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We are also going to be establishing diplomatic relations. President Bush is sending a letter to the President of Kosovo, President Sejdiu, that we’re responding affirmatively to the proposal made by Kosovo that we do establish diplomatic relations.

I’d just make a couple of major points, then we’ll go right to questions. The first is this. This culminates a decade of U.S. policy to support the people of Kosovo and to support the idea of stability and peace and justice in Kosovo. And the Bush Administration has worked very hard over the last three years to try to prepare for this day. We were among the leaders with the European allies in trying to make sure there was a United Nations process to look into the status of Kosovo. That resulted in President Ahtisaari, Martti Ahtisaari’s report to the Secretary General of the UN a year ago. We’ve worked very hard since then to be part of the international negotiations to see if it was possible to have an agreement between Serbia and Kosovo. That was not the case. And we’ve worked closely with the European countries for today’s decision.

We have recognized Kosovo. Many other states have as well. Just in the last two hours, I’ve been on the phone with my European counterparts, and after a long meeting in Brussels of the EU foreign ministers, you’ve now seen many of the EU countries come forward to recognize Kosovo. We’ve also seen early recognitions by Turkey, and by Afghanistan, and by Australia. And we’ve seen a very strong and supportive comment by the Organization of the Islamic Conference which is meeting in Dakar in Senegal. So think a very good early start for this country.

I also wanted to say that we will be working with the government to try to help it politically as well as economically. There will be a donors conference in a couple of months time in Europe. The United States is already one of the largest donors to Kosovo. In fact, in 2008 we’ll be conveying around $335 million[1] in U.S. aid to Kosovo. That’s a sizeable amount, and we’re encouraging other countries to do as much.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, we made – Andrea, we made the basic assumption over the last several years, and this is a long-term policy over two administrations, the Bush Administration and the Clinton Administration, that given what happened in the breakup of Yugoslavia, particularly in Kosovo in 1998, the attempted ethnic cleansing of more than 1 million Kosovar Albanian Muslims, the brutal war that Milosevic fought with them, and of course, the NATO intervention in 1999 and nine years of United Nations rule since then, this is an extraordinarily complex situation but it’s rather unique. So we don’t see the independence of Kosovo as some kind of precedent that would – that should encourage in any way, shape or form other groups to break away from nation-states in Europe. But we do think that this is the final death knell, if you will, of Yugoslavia. And Yugoslavia broke up over the period of 1991 all the way now to 2008, and this is the just resolution of that problem.

In terms of volatility and violence, we made the assumption over the last several years, certainly in this Administration over the last three years since we began working very intensively on the final status issue for Kosovo, that not acting and not deciding the final status of Kosovo will be much more likely to lead to violence than action. That’s an assumption we made. That’s an assumption that the European Union made. I think it underlies the report of Martti Ahtisaari, the envoy of the United Nations whose plan provides the basis for the new independent state. They will undergo a period of supervised independence now. The European Union will be introducing a civilian mission to take the place of the United Nations office that has been there for nine years. NATO is going to stay and, in fact, NATO met this morning and reaffirmed its decision to stay in Kosovo. The EU made its decision two days ago.

And so I think that we should see a period of stability. And the goal is to help this country now get on its feet, become fully independent, but to help the entire region of the Balkans be more calm and stable. As Secretary Rice said in her statement, we’re now looking for Serbia, which is obviously going to be extremely unhappy about what the international community is doing today, we’re looking for Serbia, however, to take its place in the European Union in the future and in a better relationship with NATO and as a friend of the U.S. I would just say that this is the right decision for us and it’s the right decision if the international community wants to minimize the chance of violence in the future. Had we not acted, there would have been a tremendous amount of pressure for independence. I think that probably would have encouraged the kind of violence and instability that we are now hoping to prevent.

QUESTION: And what do you say to Putin and to Russia in general?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, you know, we, of course, have worked very closely with Russia for the last decade, but you have to remember that Russia left Kosovo. Russia did not stay in Kosovo along with the rest of the international community. We did stay. We kept our troops in KFOR. We had our political and economic support for Kosovo. We worked with the Russians over the last year. When Ahtisaari came out with his report in the spring of 2007, we had wanted to have an affirmative vote at the Security Council to affirm that plan and to put it into place. Russia did not agree.

So we then agreed to 130 days of negotiations where Russia, the United States and the EU each provided a diplomat, and they shuttled back and forth between Belgrade and Pristina for four months. And we tried to engineer a solution to the problem, but it was not possible. And just as the Ahtisaari plan had said, it wasn’t possible to have a solution between Belgrade and Pristina. Those negotiations, I think, prove that.

So we gave Russia every chance, both in the Security Council last spring and summer, in the negotiations which we co-sponsored with the Russians, but now we have to move ahead. And we are the countries recognizing today – the members of the EU, the United States, Turkey, countries that have played the biggest role in Kosovo. So we know we’re making the right decision. And we’ll have a disagreement with the Russians, but we’re the ones that have been on the ground and we’re the ones that have the responsibility to help Kosovo now get on its feet.

QUESTION: The Secretary said in her statement that the U.S. will work with international partners to help implement the Ahtisaari plan.


QUESTION: What kind of – what exactly are you going to do?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: The Ahtisaari plan is, in essence, the basis for the statehood of Kosovo. As I said in reply to Andrea’s question, it provides for a period of supervised independence. What that means is that there will be two institutions that will be on the ground in Kosovo playing a major role trying to guide them forward and help them resolve the challenges ahead. The first is the European Union, which will have a civilian mission on the ground relatively shortly. The second is NATO, which has the KFOR mission that’s been there since June of 1999, following the prosecution of the Kosovar war. And so those two institutions will be there to help guide the new Kosovar Government.

But also very importantly, the Ahtisaari plan calls for a set of assurances for the security and safety of the Kosovar Serb population. You know, roughly 92 to 94 percent of the population are Kosovar Albanian Muslims, which also give you an idea of the overwhelming pressure for independence. But there’s a significant Serb minority community. That community has the right to stay in Kosovo, to be citizens of Kosovo, to live peacefully. You know, there’s been violence over the last – well, many, many years, over the last generation, between the major groups. And the Ahtisaari plan asks the Government of Kosovo, the new government, to put in place laws and procedures to safeguard the rights of that community. In fact, I called the President of Kosovo just about a half an hour ago to congratulate him and I’m waiting to speak to Prime Minister Thaci, and I know that they are in session right now beginning to implement – put in place some of the laws that the Ahtisaari plan calls for.

So I think all of us believe that one of the most important features of this new government will be reaching out to the Serbs, encouraging them to stay in Kosovo – those that live there – and providing them the rights and physical security to stay. That’s also the job of KFOR, of the NATO forces, to protect the Serb monasteries and churches that are a big part of Serb culture in Kosovo and have been there for, as you know, hundreds of years, and to provide physical protection should there be any kind of threats or attacks on the minority population. And we take that obligation very seriously.

So the Ahtisaari plan is the bedrock of this, and we will see – we have seen both from President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Thaci – we’ve seen and heard very strong assurances that they intend to implement that plan fully and to protect the rights of the Kosovar Serbs. And if you look at the statement of independence made yesterday by Prime Minister Thaci and the Kosovo Assembly, he spoke part of his address in Serbo-Croatian. He told the Serbs that they would be protected and that the majority population wanted them to stay. So it’s that kind of thing that we’re looking for from the new government.

QUESTION: But do you plan to maintain troops on the ground?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: NATO has decided to maintain the presence of the KFOR troops. We have nearly 17,000 NATO troops in Kosovo. They’ve been there since June 1999, since the war ended. Among – of those 17,000, roughly 1,600 – 1,600 – are American troops.


UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And we will all stay. NATO met this morning, and you’ll look for a public statement that the North Atlantic Council issued saying that we’re going to stay. But that decision was made, actually, last autumn by the NATO foreign ministers that we would stay should Kosovo status change. And it’s certainly changed today.

QUESTION: Thank you.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: And we’ve not put a time limit, by the way, on how long NATO would stay. And the United States, of course, has reassured all the allies and the Kosovar Government that we intend to keep our troops there as long as the mission is there.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: We see no reason that it should. We’ve worked very closely with the Russians. You remember back in 1999 when we worked with the Russians; the Russians were part of this international effort for many years until they left Kosovo several years ago. But we have worked particularly closely with Russia over the last year, as I mentioned in response to Andrea’s question. We were ready to recognize Kosovo – the United States – a year ago when the Ahtisaari plan was unveiled, but it was the express wish of Russia that we not have a Security Council decision last spring and summer to recognize Kosovo, that we first give the chance – the opportunity for additional negotiations. And we joined the Russians and the European Union in four months of negotiations. We have been in touch with the Russians, you know, on a weekly basis. We have been part of the so-called Contact Group together for many, many years – Russian and American diplomats. Secretary Rice has had innumerable conversations with Minister Lavrov. In fact, they just spoke this morning by phone – Secretary Rice, I think when she was traveling from Kenya to Tanzania. So the Russians aren’t going to be surprised by our position.

And I should also say this is the position of the great majority of the European Union countries who are recognizing today, along with significant countries in the Muslim world and in the Far East. So I think we are – we’re going to be in the vanguard of countries recognizing Kosovo. And certainly among those countries that have done the most for Kosovo, that have had their troops on the ground, that have given economic assistance, that have been involved since ’98, ’99 in preventing the ethnic cleansing of the Kosovar population, this is no surprise to the Russians that this day has come.

I would also tell you, as you already know, that the resolution that we passed in June 1999, UN Security Council Resolution 1244, it foresaw a period of time when Kosovo’s final status would have to be decided. And that resolution was very specific: It essentially required Serbia to withdraw its military, its paramilitary and its police forces from Kosovo; it suspended Belgrade’s governance over Kosovo; it placed Kosovo under UN administration. It’s been under UN administration for nine years.

So for countries to say somehow this is a shock or that this is not the correct move, correct step politically or legally, that we just fundamentally disagree with that point. So I do not expect any kind of crisis with Russia over this. We expect the Russians to be supportive of stability in the region, and I think that all of us are going to be requesting that people remain calm and that the Kosovar authorities be allowed to establish this government and to move forward.

QUESTION: Great. I just wondered how long you think NATO forces may have to stay in Kosovo. I mean, are you thinking it could be years more? And I think you said a minute ago, you expect stability there. Are you saying that you don’t expect violence now?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, on the first question, we have – NATO has not put a time limit on the deployment of the KFOR force. And we’ll just – we’ll have to take this step by step. The reason for the NATO troops, of course, is to help the new state – the presence of NATO troops is to help the new state through a period of forming itself and getting on its feet, but also to protect the minority populations, specifically the Kosovar Serbs, and to help in training of a police force that can in the future take over the job of security and stability inside the borders of the country itself. So we haven’t put a time limit on it.

In terms of violence, we have specifically called on the people of Kosovo to remain calm. The NATO leaders have, the EU leaders have, the new President and Prime Minister have. And we fully expect that law and order will be maintained. The United Nations police force and the NATO military force are there to maintain law and order, and they have pledged to do so. It has been a relatively quiet first 24 hours and it’s our strong hope that that will be sustained.

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, there have been some small demonstrations in Belgrade. There were yesterday and again today. But we’re very grateful to the Serb police and the Serb Government for maintaining law and order, and for maintaining the security around our Embassy and those of the other European countries.

Secondly, on Serbia, we have made a major effort to reach out to the Serb Government over the last several years. And we’ve made the point to the Serbs that we understand completely that we have a disagreement with them, that they’re going to be – they’re not going to at all support the actions taken by the European Union countries, some of the Asian countries and the United States today; but that we fully expect that Serbia’s future should be in Europe and that some future association by Serbia – of Serbia with the European Union, excuse me, is necessary, that we want Serbia’s relationship with NATO to grow. We see Serbia as part of Europe, and we know that the Balkans is the last part of Europe that has not received the benefits of the end of the Cold War, economic or political.

Yugoslavia had to break up, and it did, and this is the last vestige of the former Yugoslavia – the fact that Kosovo has now become free and independent. Now, we hope the Serb people, the Kosovars, the Bosnians, the Montenegrins, the Croatians, Albanians and Macedonians, all of them can look towards a future in Europe, and that’s with the EU and NATO. And that’s our message.

Secretary Rice called President Tadic yesterday and she had, I think, a good conversation with him. They obviously did not agree on this question, but she reaffirmed the strong interest that we have in a good relationship with Serbia. And we’ll continue that in the days ahead and the weeks ahead.

Finally, I would just say in terms of NATO and the European Union, the vast majority of members of both organizations are recognizing Kosovo today and have already taken that step. Some members have not. We appreciate that they have a disagreement. I would expect that the majority of them will find their way towards recognition in a short period of time, but I don’t want to speak for them. And there may be one or two countries that decide that, for whatever, reason, maybe domestic reasons, they can’t take that step right now. We respect that difference. But I think what’s important is the great majority of countries are recognizing today.

QUESTION: You talked about helping Kosovo to get on its feet. Can you tell us what ideas you have in that respect? Because they obviously have some economic concerns in Kosovo, a lot of concerns about trafficking of people, and you clearly don’t want to see a Muslim-dominated state in Europe with such problems, especially among the young population. So you do have any ideas in that respect?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, first of all, Kosovo is going to be a vastly majority Muslim state, given the fact that 92 to 94 percent of their population is Muslim. And we think it is a very positive step that this Muslim state, Muslim majority state, has been created today. It’s a stable – we think it’s going to be a stable state.

The people of Kosovo – and I’ve been there many times over the last several years – have been remarkably patient. They’ve been living for nine years not knowing what the future of their country was going to be. And with the exception of an outbreak in violence which was quite serious in March of 2004, nearly four years ago now, there has been relative peace and stability in Kosovo, and we think that should be maintained. What we need to do is reach out politically to recognize them, establish diplomatic relations. And we’re encouraging as many states as possible to do that.

And secondly, the country is going to need a lot of economic assistance. So I mentioned before that there’ll be a donors conference hosted by one of the European countries in several months. We gave – the United States extended $77 million in assistance to Kosovo last year in 2007. We’re going to put forward roughly $334 million[2] in assistance in 2008. And we specifically would like to see the involvement of the World Bank and of the other European development banks to help the people of Kosovo create a modern economy.

We certainly would like to see debt relief for Kosovo because that will be an immediate way to help them. And we would like, obviously, to see as much regional trade and investment as is possible in that region.

And so I think it’s going to be a very tall order. There are many challenges ahead. But it’s clearly the right decision, and I think the European Union will be – will bear the greatest share of responsibility, given the fact that this is a European country. But the United States, given our long involvement, is going to be one of the leaders in this effort as well.

QUESTION: Yeah, Nick, I have another question. You said that Secretary Rice called President Tadic yesterday.


QUESTION: Did he commit not to break the relations with U.S. after the recognition?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: I don’t believe – I don’t believe that was discussed. You know, we have actually a very active relationship with Serbia. The United States is one of the largest – I think we’re the largest investor in Serbia. If we’re not the largest – it changes month to month – we’re the second largest. A lot of American corporate involvement.

We have a much closer relationship with Serbia, obviously, than we did in the latter part of the 1990s when we twice had to – well, the first time in Bosnia and the second in Kosovo, use force against first the Bosnian Serbs and the Serb Army. We have the beginnings of a military relationship. We have encouraged Serbia to come into a closer partnership with NATO. And so I would expect our diplomatic relationship to continue. I just talked to the Serb Ambassador Friday. He came to see me. We had a long conversation. I expect I’ll talk to him today or tomorrow. And I wouldn’t expect our diplomatic relationship to be downgraded in any way. And our Ambassador, Cameron Munter, in Belgrade has been very active over the last couple of days.

So I don’t think it came up in the conversation between Tadic and Secretary Rice, but I don’t expect a major change in that regard.

QUESTION: Yes, sir. Halil Mula with RTV-21. First of all, I would like to thank you, Ambassador Burns, for all your input and help toward Kosovo. Second would be, what do you expect from today’s meeting at the Security Council that is being called? What are they going to participate – President of Kosovo – of Serbia, I’m sorry, Tadic?

UNDER SECRETARY BURNS: Well, you know, there was a meeting of the Security Council yesterday. There’ll be a second meeting today. We expect President Tadic to come. I imagine that Russia and Serbia will say that the action – the declaration of independence is illegal under international law. That’s what Russia essentially said yesterday. And of course, we fundamentally disagree with that.

And I would just – this is important for those of you writing about this aspect of it. Resolution 1244, which was passed in June ’99, is the basis of the Kosovo situation itself. It envisaged a final status process for Kosovo, but it did not determine what the outcome would be. And as I said before, it ordered the removal of the Serb Army and the Serb Government and it ordered the United Nations to take over the province, and that’s been the status of the province for the last nine years.

There is nothing in Resolution 1244 that would prevent or make illegal a declaration of independence. There is nothing in 1244 that would prevent the establishment of a new state. In fact, 1244 and its major effort essentially says there has to be a UN-led presence to decide the future status of Kosovo, and that’s what we’ve seen over the last two years with President Martti Ahtisaari, the former president of Finland, leading that. He recommended to the United Nations— the United Nations envoy, that there be – that independence come to Kosovo and that it be supervised independence. He recommended the EU go in. He recommended that NATO stay.

So what we will say today is that we have respected 1244, that we have made this decision, as have many other countries, because it’s in the best interest of the stability of Kosovo; but there’s nothing in 1244, nothing at all from a legal point of view, that would indicate that what the Kosovar Government has done is illegal or somehow contrary to 1244. So, frankly, I think the United States, the European countries, the Arab and Muslim countries that are recognizing Kosovo today stand on very solid legal ground. We have been the ones on the ground in Kosovo for the last nine years. We have been the ones who have contributed our soldiers. And I think we’re doing absolutely the right thing for stability in Kosovo and peace, which, of course, is one of the most important objectives of the United Nations.

[1] Total projected U.S. assistance to Kosovo for 2008 is $335 million.


The transcript of this tele-conference with journalists was sent by email,

Russia asks for emergency UN Security Council meeting on Kosovo

Kosovo’s parliament declared independence on Sunday. The Associated Press reported from Pristinia, KOSOVO that the speaker of Kosovo’s parliament declared that “Kosovo is a republic — an independent, democratic and sovereign state” — and the announcement was greeted with a burst of applause.

This AP report said that “Sunday’s declaration was carefully orchestrated with the U.S. and key European powers …But by sidestepping the U.N. and appealing directly to the U.S. and other nations for recognition, Kosovo set up a showdown with Serbia — outraged at the imminent loss of its territory — and Russia, which warned that it would set a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide … Serbia immediately denounced the declaration as illegal [and unilateral] , and Russia also rejected it, demanding an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council”. The AP report from Kosovo is here.

The UNSC held an emergency session behind closed doors on Sunday afternoon at Russia’s request, backed by Serbia. A more formal open meeting is apparently scheduled for Monday. AP reported that Russia’s Ambassador to the UN in NY, Vitaly Churkin, said: “We’ll insist that it should be an open meeting, and we expect that the president of Serbia will participate”. AP also reported that Churkin said: “We’ll strongly warn against any attempts at repressive measures, should Serbs in Kosovo decide not to comply with this unilateral proclamation of independence.” In Sunday’s private meeting, Churkin apparently argued that “the declaration of independence from Serbia made earlier Sunday violates the council’s orders and other UN rules”.

UPDATE: The BBC and other news sources reported Monday that Russia is trying to get the Kosovo Declaration of Independence annulled.

An AP report from Moscow says that “The Foreign Ministry said Russia supports Serbia’s ‘just demands to restore the country’s territorial integrity’ and wants the Security Council to renew efforts to reach a settlement on the issue of Kosovo’s status. Kosovo’s independence declaration violates Serbia’s sovereignty and the U.N. Charter and threatens “the escalation of tension and ethnic violence in the region, a new conflict in the Balkans,” the ministry said in a statement. It warned other nations against ‘supporting separatism’ by recognizing Kosovo. Kosovo has formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the UN and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists. Russia has stressed its opposition to any decision on Kosovo’s status that is not accepted by Serbia. It has warned that recognition of Kosovo by the United States and other nations would encourage separatists in the former Soviet Union, across Europe and around the world”. The AP report from Moscow is here.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, on a visit to Israel, said at a press conference in Jerusalem that he wished the Kosovars “good luck”. He said in remarks broadcast on Kol Israel that he was not sure what positions would be taken tomorrow in Brussels, but added with what sounded like a Gallic shrug that UN-led negotiations on Kosovo hadn’t made much progress, and there wasn’t much other choice but to support its independence. Kouchner was one of the first UN commissars of Kosovo.

The Israeli Hebrew-Language newspaper Ma’ariv said, in an editorial, that, “Today, Kosovo will declare independence, against the will of the parent state, Serbia,” and adds that, “The coerced solution is causing concern in Israel and in other states, such as Cyprus and Russia.” The editors assert that, “Kosovo’s declaration of independence is a violation of international law“, and suggest that the US is supporting it, “Because it is simply sick and tired of dealing with these problematic Balkans.” [This summary was supplied by the Israeli Government Press Office.]

The Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a statement Sunday night saying, intriguingly: “Regarding Kosovo’s declaration of independence, Israel is monitoring developments and will formulate its position in due course”.

The implications for Israel are obvious, as it is now negotiating something related to the creation of a Palestinian State, though in the past it warned PLO leader Yasser Arafat not to make a unilateral declaration, as he threatened to do (particularly in 1999 and 2000 –months before the outbreak of the Second Intifada).

UPDATE: The next day (Monday 18 February), the Israeli Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv said in another editorial that “Israeli support for a unilateral declaration of independence is liable to weaken Israel’s position against a similar declaration by the Palestinians.” According to a summary provided by the Israeli Government Press Office, “Ma’ariv editors suggest that Israel will, in the end, recognize Kosovo’s independence but only after many other countries, especially the U.S., have done so”.

Prime Minister Hashim Thaci (a former leader of the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) which fought Serbian troops in a separatist war in 1998-99), President Fatmir Sejdiu, and Parliament speaker Jakup Krasniqi signed the declaration of independence, AP reported from Kosovo, and a new flag was unveiled –not the red and black flag of the KLA , which demonstrators waved in celebration in the streets today, but a very new one, which drew heavily on the European Community’s blue background flag, with a golden yellow image of Kosovo, and with just six white stars — apparently one for each of its main ethnic groups.

Kosovo flag from commons area of Wikipedia

Thaci, according to the AP report from Pristina, pledged that the new nation of Kosovo “would be ‘a democratic, multi-ethnic state’ … and added that ‘Kosovo will never be ruled by Belgrade again’ … Thaci on Sunday signed 192 separate letters to nations around the world — including Serbia — asking them to recognize Kosovo as a state”.

The AP report added that “Serbian President Boris Tadic rejected the independence bid immediately, declaring Sunday’s proclamation ‘unilateral and illegal’ … Serbia’s government minister for Kosovo, Slobodan Samardzic, said Sunday that Serbia would increase its presence in the roughly 15 percent of Kosovo that is Serb-controlled … Serbia’s government ruled out any military response as part of its secret ‘action plan’ drafted earlier this week as a response, but warned that it would downgrade relations with any foreign government that recognizes Kosovo’s independence”. Again, the AP report from Pristina is posted here.

Russia makes a move – expresses suspicion about U.S. plans to shoot down falling satellite

According to a report from the Associated Press, “Russia said Saturday that U.S. military plans to shoot down a damaged spy satellite may be a veiled test of America’s missile defense system. The Pentagon failed to provide ‘enough arguments’ to back its plan to smash the satellite next week with a missile, Russia’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. ‘There is an impression that the United States is trying to use the accident with its satellite to test its national anti-missile defense system’s capability to destroy other countries’ satellites’, the ministry said”.

The AP story also reported that “The Bush administration says the operation is not a test of a program to kill other nations’ orbiting communications and intelligence capabilities. U.S. diplomats around the world have been instructed to inform governments that it is meant to protect people from 1,000 pounds of toxic fuel on the bus-sized satellite hurtling toward Earth. The diplomats were told to distinguish the upcoming attempt from last year’s test by China of a missile specifically designed to take out satellites, which was criticized by the United States and other countries … Left alone, the satellite would likely hit Earth during the first week of March …The operation to shoot down the dead satellite could happen as soon as next week”. This AP report is posted here.

Later, China expressed concern, and Foreign Ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao said on Sunday, according to a Reuters report from Beijing, that the government “is considering what ‘preventative measures’ to take … ‘The Chinese government is paying close attention to how the situation develops and demands the U.S. side fulfill its international obligations and avoids causing damage to security in outer space and of other countries … Relevant departments in China are closely watching the situation and studying preventive measures,” Liu said in a brief statement posted on the Foreign Ministry’s Web site (”.

Reuters added that “It will be the first time the United States has conducted an anti-satellite operation since the 1980s. Russia also has not conducted anti-satellite activities in 20 years. China launched a ground-based missile into an obsolete weather satellite in January 2007, drawing international criticism and worries inside the Pentagon that Beijing has the ability to target critical military assets in space”. This AP report from Beijing is posted here.

At the time, the U.S. characterized China’s action as “a matter of concern,” since it indicates a possible threat to America’s own satellites, as well as those of other countries. And the Center for Defense Information (CDI), a Washington-based think tank, condemned the Chinese test as “provocative and irresponsible,” saying it “should be roundly condemned” and adding that “the deliberate creation of persistent space-debris in a highly-used orbit is simply unacceptable behavior in space.” The CDI also noted that “some observers have suggested that the ASAT [anti-satellite] test could have been a strategic move by the Chinese to bully the United States into actually discussing such a [Chinese-desired outer space disarmament] treaty.” The CDI went on to warn that: “The United States and the international community need to take the time to finally have the difficult discussion about what actions are acceptable in space, and, more importantly, which ones are absolutely unacceptable.” If no country took China to task, the think tank said, “space will become the new Wild West; a situation … guaranteed to put everyone’s space assets even more at risk.”

Shortly after China’s action was reported last year, China confirmed to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva that it had indeed conducted an anti-satellite test in outer space. China’s disarmament ambassador to the CD, Cheng Jingye told diplomats that, “as everybody was aware,” China had long been advocating for the launch of talks on the prevention of an arms race in outer space (PAROS). Ambassador Cheng, who was speaking at the 2007 CD session’s second meeting, also noted that China and the Russian Federation had already submitted to the Conference some suggested points to be included in a draft treaty that they want to begin to negotiate. Such a treaty would be aimed at banning the deployment of weapons in outer space, as well as preventing the use, or threat of use, of weapons against space objects.

The U.S. is the chief objector — and it has the usual support from its friends.

China in particular has been very put out that the U.S. will not agree — the U.S. says, among other things, that the 1972 Outer Space Treaty is perfectly adequate, and that there is no arms race in outer space. China believes that the U.S. does indeed have a space weaponization program, which grew out of the Reagan Star Wars semi-bluff, and which involves the use of satellites in at least targetting and guiding missiles and other weapons.

In January 2007 China shocked the world by successfully shooting down one of its own weather satellites with a ground-launched missile, in a not-too-subtle demonstration of the clear need to negotiate some new rules.

Russia has surprised everybody by sticking with China on this, and Russia now has its own issues with the U.S., related to the stated U.S. intention to deploy part of its “missile shield” in eastern European countries bordering Russia. The two countries have recently submitted a slightly revised proposal that they hope will permit the launch of negotiations.

One way out of this antagonism would be for the U.S. to agree to the start of PAROS talks in Geneva — what is the harm in talking??? China does not want just talks, of course, it wants an eventual treaty — but what’s the harm of another treaty??? China says it has been willing to make concessions, and to accept the start of talks on a Fissile Material cut-off (at least, of production — no one is talking yet about eliminating stockpiles), which is the U.S. top disarmament priority, so long as the U.S. will also recognize and move on China’s top priority, which is PAROS.

Russia and China would view the U.S. as less controlling (and deceptive) and more open and cooperative, if only it would agree to the space talks.

The problems related to this falling U.S. satellite offer the U.S. a way to make this concession that they have fought for years — which will unblock the disarmament stalemate, and defuse the tensions between the world’s major nuclear powers.

Russia's FM to present proposal for treaty to prevent weaponization of outer space

The very useful Reaching Critical Will newsletter (a project of the Women’s international league for Peace and Freedom) is reporting that “During the 25 January plenary [of the Conference on Disamament in Geneva], Russian Ambassador Valery Loshchinin announced that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov would be visiting the CD in February to submit a proposal for a treaty to prevent the weaponization of outer space, the elements of which were ‘proposed by Russia and China together with a group of co-sponsors back in June 2002’. Loshchinin noted it would ‘constitute yet another multilateral measure in the field of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation and thus would be a real contribution to strengthening the NPT regime’. The story was picked up by Reuters, in an article that explained the proposal has been circulated to some senior diplomats. Donald Mahley, acting US deputy assistant secretary for threat reduction, reportedly said, ‘We see nothing in the new proposal to change the current U.S. position…. Additional binding arms control agreements are simply not a viable tool for enhancing the long-term space security interests of the United States or its allies’. While the proposals is not yet available to the public, it is said to be based on previous joint statements and working papers made by Russia and China in the CD”. For the texts, see the Reaching Critical Will CD archives here.

Inexorable logic — either the U.S. downsizes (and keep its anti-missile program away), or Russia will upgrade

Reuters has picked up a report on the Itar-Tass news agency quoting First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov as saying on Friday that Russia must achieve nuclear arms parity with the United States: “Military potential, to say nothing of nuclear potential, must be at the proper level if we want … to just stay independent … The weak are not loved and not heard, they are insulted, and when we have parity they will talk to us in a different way“.

Reuters reported, from Tass, that Ivanov told veterans and members of Russia’s military-industrial commission that “every year Russia would be now commissioning six or seven of its newest ‘Topol-M’ nuclear intercontinental ballistic missiles. The missiles — the first developed by Russia after the 1991 demise of the Soviet Union — can carry up to six warheads and are mounted on mobile launcher vehicles”. The Reuters report can be seen here.

Russian irritation with U.S. postures has been evident and growing in recent years, but the U.S. has appeared to be surprised by this — and continues not making concessions to Russia’s views and positions, within the Conference on Disarmament at the UN in Geneva, and elsewhere.

Russia: mad with the U.S.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice was shocked, taken aback — according to the news reports.

Why? She should have known.

The Russians have made it clear — they’ve said so in the Conference on Disarmament, and Putin said so at a security conference in Germany last year, before saying it again yesterday before assembled journalists, Rice, and U.S. Defense Secretary Gates. They don’t like the U.S. missile defense system. They are very much opposed to it.

Putin is angry, and has said so consistently. Russia was furious when the U.S. unilaterally abrogated its bilateral treaty on Anti-Ballistic Missiles (ABM) — and the U.S. said soothingly that it was only because it didn’t reflect new realities, that the new Russia was no longer the enemy that the old Soviet Union was during the Cold War, and so on and so forth …

Then, the U.S. surprised everyone by proposing to put its Missile Defense Shield (a more realistic version of Ronald Reagan’s “Star Wars” proposal) in Eastern Europe, right on Russia’s doorstep — just like the U.S. deployed nuclear weapons in Europe during the Cold War. When Russia objected, the U.S. was surprised, shocked: So, the U.S. then proposed sharing the technology with Russia. The real target, the U.S. said, was Iran. Russia didn’t believe it for a second.

Why should anyone be surprised, then shocked, now? Unless, of course, you don’t take others seriously …
Continue reading Russia: mad with the U.S.

Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva

The very useful CD (Conference on Disarmament) Report put out by the excellent ReachingCriticalWill project reports on the conclusion of this year’s CD work by implying that there might have been a very slight movement forward.

Reading this CD Report, however, one gets the distinct impression that what is being viewed as progress is a mobbing situation, where constant attempts are made to isolate and blame China for causing the difficulties in the CD.

China has insisted that it can only agree to start work on negotiating a Fissile Material Cut-Off Treaty (FMCT), which the U.S. wants, if China’s top priority, which is the Prevention of An Arms Race in Outer Space (PAROS), is also given some attention.

China has been given critical support by Russia — though Western European diplomats have been watching with relish and malicious glee for any possible weakening in Russia’s position (though this has not happened so far).
Continue reading Snail's progress at Conference on Disarmament in Geneva

U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill told journalists Monday evening in Geneva that the just-ended two-day round of talks with North Korea in Geneva was “the fourth of five working groups that we’ve held in connection with getting ready for the next Six-Party plenary. The fifth working group will take place next week in Ulanbaatar in Mongolia between Japan and the DPRK. I would say we had, I think, very good and very substantive talks. I think we have an expectation that, because of this bilateral meeting, that we can look forward to a better chance of success at the next Six-Party plenary. We discussed all issues, of course focusing very much on the bilateral issues but not excluding, of course, the main event in the Six Parties, which is the denuclearization.

And one thing that we agreed on is that the DPRK will provide a full declaration of all of their nuclear programs and will disable their nuclear programs by the end of this year, 2007.

Continue reading U.S. negotiator briefs again – says North Korea will disable its nuclear programs this year

It must be election time in Russia

Not only do we get to see Vladimir Putin’s nice chest — come on, this guy reportedly works out three hours per day —

RIA Novosti Photo -  KREMLIN - Reuters

Russia's President Vladimir Putin fishes in the Yenisei River in Siberia as he makes a tour together with Prince Albert II of Monaco, August 13, 2007

but now we learn that ten people have just been arrested for the murder last October of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who has been previously mentioned in this blog for her extraordinary writing. Those just arrested reportedly include a Chechen (of course!) crime boss accused of organizing the slaying.The Associated Press is reporting today that Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika said the 10 will soon be charged with the Oct. 7 killing of Politkovskaya … and he suggested her murder was plotted outside Russia to discredit its leadership … He said that people involved in Politkovskaya’s killing may have also been involved in the 2004 shooting death of Paul Klebnikov, an American who was editor of Forbes magazine’s Russian edition. ‘As for the motives for the killing, the results of the investigation lead us to the conclusion that only individuals located outside the territory of the Russian Federation could have had an interest in getting rid of Politkovskaya’, Chaika told a news conference Monday ‘It is in the interest first of all of those people and structures that aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change the constitutional order (and) create a crisis in Russia’, he said, adding that such forces want to ‘discredit the leadership’ and provoke foreign pressure on the Kremlin. They seek ‘a return to the former system of rule, under which money and oligarchs decided everything’, he said. Chaika mentioned no names, but he appeared to be pointing the finger at least in part at Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who is one of Putin’s fiercest critics and lives in Britain, where he has refugee status. His assertion was likely to be met with disbelief by Kremlin critics, who say Putin and his government are too quick to blame foreign countries and foes abroad — often Berezovsky — for the nation’s problems.”

Read full AP report here.

Continue reading It must be election time in Russia