General Affairs Council - Brussels
Monday 31 May 1999

(Cook treats latest Belgrade offer "with greatest of care")


I would like to report on two main issues, on both of which we are very pleased at the outcome, and which represents a success of the British diplomacy on issues which we have been pushing for some weeks. The first of those relates to the new proposed Stability Pact with the countries of the Balkans and the nearby countries of the region. Today we considered the report of the Commission. The report of the Commission, we believe, is a very good basis for putting real substance into the Stability Pact and making sure that Europe achieves a step change in its relations with the countries of the Balkans.

Tony Blair said, in the early days of the conflict, that this conflict could be a turning point for the countries of the Balkans, that we need to make sure that the solidarity and co-operation we have built up with them through the conflict is maintained in its momentum after the conflict, and that together we make sure that the stereotype of the Balkans, as countries of instability and confrontation and therefore poverty is put into history and that we welcome the countries of the Balkans into the democratic structures of the modern Europe.

The Commission's proposals mirror the ideas that have been floated by Britain in the discussions within the European Union over the past month. Three particular proposals have surfaced strongly in the Commission's paper. First of all, new trade arrangements with the European Union in order that they may have greater access to the wealthy markets of the European Union, and the opportunity to share in our prosperity. Secondly, greater financial and technical support with building democratic institutions, promoting a civic society and supporting a free media in order that those countries may share the same standards as the rest of Europe in modern freedom. And, thirdly, special stability and association agreements with the countries of the region in order that we may deepen our ties with them and help them towards integration with the modern Europe.

The Commission's report makes it clear that those steps are also available to Serbia, but only if it accepts a solution to the Kosovo conflict on the terms that the international community have set out and if it makes progress towards real democracy and respect for the rights of minority groups. All the neighbours of Serbia are already showing solidarity with the international community in its struggle to reverse the ethnic cleansing of Kosovo. Those neighbours are also making real progress towards democratic reform and economic progress. What we have offered them today is a new package which represents a new contract with the European Union, and that is an added reason why the people of Serbia should look at their Government, should consider how much better their neighbours are doing, and recognise that it is a change in the policies of Belgrade that are necessary if they also are to benefit from the new deal on offer from Europe.

Before I leave Kosovo, can I say that at the end of lunch Hashim Thaci addressed us. Hashim Thaci is the political spokesmen for the Kosovo Liberation Army, and has been designated by them as Prime Minister of their provisional government. I met Hashim Thaci yesterday and I then rang Joschka Fischer and suggested that all the Foreign Ministers of the European Union should have the opportunity to hear his message. One point I would make where he brought new information from inside Kosovo is that he informed us that a major new Serb offensive has just been launched in the Drenice region where there are 150,000 or more internally displaced persons now at risk from Serb attack, and he is gravely concerned that this could result in more massacres and more expulsions from Kosovo, but of course the fact that today his forces have launched a new major offensive underlines why it is so important that we treat with the greatest of care bids from Belgrade to secure a peace settlement if they are not based on real substance. That is why I strongly supported today the conclusions on Kosovo which call for these commitments from Belgrade to be turned into firm, unambiguous and verifiable commitments.

I have just in these past 10 minutes spoken to President Ahtisaari of Finland to discuss with him his mission to Belgrade on Wednesday. I have assured President Ahtisaari that Britain strongly supports his mission in going to Belgrade for two reasons. First of all, we want to have a clear understanding from a close and respected colleague of exactly what it is that Belgrade is prepared to offer; and secondly, we want President Milosevic to clearly understand that if he does now want a peace settlement, then the only way in which that can be secured, is to accept the NATO five objectives. We will not end our struggle to reverse the ethnic cleansing in Kosovo on any terms that do not provide for the full return of all the refugees, and we know that they will not return if they do not have the security of knowing that the Serb forces have withdrawn and that NATO has entered Kosovo.

I said that there were two issues that I wanted to address in the light of our discussions today. The other is the paper on the security initiative in Europe which was launched by Britain and France at St Malo and which has been greeted with unanimous, universal support within the European Union since we took that step. We, over lunch today, cleared the text of a declaration for Cologne, and I am now pleased to say that at Cologne we have the opportunity of taking a major step forward with that initiative which will create a better decision-making structure within the European Union for us to proceed with intervention in crisis management, and which will also encourage the members of the European Union to make sure that we have the military capability to carry out the decisions that we take on crisis management. I would stress that nobody in the European Union sees this as in any way a substitute for NATO, which provides us with our guarantee of territorial defence. We are quite clear in the text that what we are discussing here are the Petersberg tasks of crisis management, peace-keeping, humanitarian relief. But as a result of this initiative, the European Union will have a clearer structure for taking decisions on these matters, a clearer capacity to translate those decisions into effective action, and the Member States will individually review how they can make sure that we also have the military capability to turn these decisions into reality. So, two good steps forward.



Do you think that Milosevic has shifted enough, given this latest report from Belgrade, to make the visit of Mr Ahtisaari worthwhile?


I warmly support the efforts being made by President Ahtisaari, I spoke to him this afternoon in which I assured him that he had our backing. We wanted him to go to Belgrade both so that we have a clear understanding of what President Milosevic is offering, but equally important that President Milosevic has a clear understanding of what is required of him. Now it is a step forward that Belgrade is now willing to recognise the G8 principles, it has taken some time to get to that point, and I am quite clear it has only got to that point because the military pressure is beginning to tell on Belgrade and to tell on President Milosevic's war machine. So the fact that he is making the offer, which demonstrates that he is under pressure, is welcome evidence of the success of our military campaign. But he has to move beyond general principles into real substance if he wants to prove that he is serious, in particular he has to accept that Serb forces have to withdraw from Kosovo and the international military force has to have a NATO core. He must understand that if he wants to end the conflict, if he is seriously looking in good faith for a political solution, then it has to be on the basis of the NATO objectives. All members of NATO have said there will be no compromise on those objectives and I think it is important he should hear that when President Ahtisaari visits him on Wednesday.