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Volume 695: debated on Monday 29 October 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What is their assessment of the prospects for an international agreement on the future of Kosovo.

My Lords, we share the UN Secretary-General’s view that the status quo in Kosovo is unsustainable. We see an early resolution of Kosovo’s status as crucial to the stability and security of the Balkans and Europe as a whole. The UK fully supports the troika process aimed at securing agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. We are urging both sides to engage constructively and creatively with the aim of reaching agreement before the process concludes on 10 December.

My Lords, the troika bought time to 10 December in the vain hope that there could be some form of compromise between Pristina and Belgrade. Clearly, that was not to be. Can my noble friend say whether, as a result of discussions in Lisbon over the weekend, there is now a greater convergence between EU members in respect of the Ahtisaari plan for conditional independence, and whether in the discussions with President Putin there was talk of a grand design under which Kosovo, the missile defence, and CFE would be brought into play?

My Lords, I am not aware of any such grand design emerging at this stage. We live in hope that by 10 December there will be progress, but we have made it clear to all our European partners that if a new agreement that is acceptable to all parties does not emerge, the proposals of President Ahtisaari remain by far the best way forward in our view.

My Lords, the Minister says that we live in hope, which of course we all do. Given that between the two sides the choice is Serbia’s offer of very broad autonomy and the Ahtisaari plan—supported by many people in Kosovo—of internationally supervised independence, it does not seem to the outsider that these things are endlessly and for ever apart. While I appreciate that there has to be a report by the troika to the UN on 10 December, is not the secret of going forward to think in terms of a series of meetings and to make time our ally? With time, these two positions can be reconciled. The tiny Serbian minorities can be reassured that they will not be slaughtered and we can see at last a way forward for these unhappy people. Could we voice that sort of opinion within our role in the EU and within the troika, which will report?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that time is important, but we feel that we have given a lot of time to this process, and without a deadline for people to confirm their final point of view, the discussion could go on endlessly. Having said that, the reason I expressed the sentiment that we live in hope is precisely because of what the noble Lord says. In fact, the differences between the two positions are not as extreme as they might appear on first encounter between a high degree of autonomy and a managed independence, which nevertheless protects the rights of the Serbian minorities and ensures through the participation of the European Union in those arrangements that those rights are guaranteed. We still hope that reason will prevail and a solution will be found before 10 December.

My Lords, have Her Majesty’s Government managed to discern any Russian national interest at stake, which might justify the threats that the Russian Government have frequently made to veto the Ahtisaari plan?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that it is rather hard to understand precisely what is driving the degree of Russian opposition here, particularly because at a recent meeting—on 27 September—in New York, chaired by the Foreign Secretary, Russia clearly expressed itself as committed to both finding a solution and acknowledging that the current situation was unsustainable.

My Lords, we are all aware that this has implications for Serbian domestic politics as well as for the future of Kosovo. Some of us have been lobbied by moderate Serbian politicians not to push them too far because of the long-term implications. Given that long-term peace in the region depends on future economic, social and political co-operation between Kosovo and Serbia, what efforts are Her Majesty’s Government making to persuade the more rational elements of Serbian politics that a settlement within a time limit is in their interests as well as everyone else’s?

My Lords, I reassure the noble Lord and others who have spoken that we have impressed upon the Kosovars themselves that they should not get ahead of the international community’s timeline. We will have to take stock of what happens on December 10 and the way forward; we want to avoid any precipitate declarations by any side about this.

As for the Serbians, we have insisted that there are economic gains in their improved and future relations with Europe. Equally, however, we must be realistic that, for Serbians, this is the ultimate red line in the sand, a further reduction and dismantling of their former country. It is therefore enormously hard to find economic incentives matching the political loss which they feel they will encounter.

My Lords, before I ask my noble friend about relations between NATO and the European Union and future security arrangements in Kosovo, for the sake of propriety I must say that I am the chairman of Cable & Wireless International which operates a mobile phone service in Kosovo through one of its subsidiary companies. However, on Brussels and the relationship between NATO and the EU, are there still frustrating bottlenecks in discussions about a possible transfer of the security authorities, occasioned by the problems associated with NATO/EU relations given the situation in Cyprus and with Turkey?

My Lords, my noble friend is an expert on EU/NATO relations and their frustrations. I hesitate to offer him an answer which goes way beyond my own competence on this point, yet nowhere near his own. If he will forgive me, I will resist giving him an answer now but will look into it and come back to him.

My Lords, parallel to the pursuit of peace in Kosovo, there is the question of whether the EU is going to conclude an association agreement with Serbia and insist on conditionality in co-operation with the Hague Tribunal, notably in the capture of Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic. Can the Minister assure us that there will be no linkage of these two things such that Serbia is let off the hook of the capture of those war criminals for its co-operation with a settlement in Kosovo?

My Lords, the need for the capture of the war criminals has been a public part of the EU’s diplomacy with Serbia for a long time. There is not likely to be any change on that. Serbia gets the message that these are different aspects of its sad history which must be cleared up before its relationship with Europe can proceed to the next step.