Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reset Button Pt. Deux: Biden goes to Serbia

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced with much fanfare (and a wrongly-worded prop) that the US wanted to 'reset' relations with Russia. Last week Vice President Joe Biden jumped on the reset bandwagon and tried to mend fences with another country - Serbia.

US-Serbian relations have been in poor shape since the United States prompted NATO to launch a two-month aerial bombing campaign against the Serbs to force them to halt military action in Kosovo in 1999. Those relations were further strained last year when the United States was one of the leading members of the international community to recognize Kosovo's claim of independence.

So Biden traveled to the Balkans to show the flag and tell the locals that the US was interested in turning the page. I talked with a Serbian friend this weekend who told me though that folks in Belgrade were more annoyed that large parts of their city were locked-down for the visit of the Vice-President of the United States than they were interested in what he had to say. Biden's meeting with Serbian President Boris Tadic didn't fare much better.

Biden encouraged Serbia to join the European community (something most Serbs want at this point anyway), but said that the US and Serbia would have to 'agree to disagree' over the status of Kosovo - Serbia, which views Kosovo as an integral part of their country, adamantly refuses to recognize Kosovo's independence.

I've expressed my opinion a number of times on this site that recognizing Kosovo's independence was a big mistake - that it's doubtful Kosovo is a viable independent state and that its current leadership includes former terrorists and possible war criminals - so I won't rehash that argument here. Biden's subtext to Tadic was though that Kosovo wasn't going to give up their 'independence', so Serbia might as well just accept it (Biden might want to present that same argument to his allies in the Georgian government about Abkhazia and South Ossetia).

But that attitude could cause problems in another of the Biden Tour's stops - Bosnia. There the Vice-President endorsed the idea of a multi-ethnic state in Bosnia, though infighting among the country's three ethnic groups: Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks), Croats and Serbs have brought the government to a standstill. And thanks to the example of Kosovo, the Bosnian Serbs have talked about leaving the Bosnian Federation all together and seeking unification with Serbia.

And the United States’ renewed interest in the Balkans isn't sitting well in the capitals of Europe, according to the Guardian newspaper in Britain. According to them, the United States is quite worried that Bosnia could dissolve into another civil war and is prodding the Europeans to get more involved; meanwhile the Europeans see Bosnia as a governance problem and believe that despite some tough talk, none of the three sides really has an appetite for a new round of conflict.
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