Select Committee on Foreign Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 274 - 279)




  274. Secretary of State, may I, on behalf of the Committee, welcome you and your two colleagues. On your right, I understand, is Dr Emyr Jones Parry, who is the Political Director and Deputy Under-Secretary of State, and on your left is Mr Tom Phillips, Head of the Eastern Adriatic Department. Secretary of State, we return to our series of regular meetings on Kosovo, on which you have kindly briefed the Committee on the latest stages. As you now know, the Committee hopes, probably towards the end of November, to mount a full-scale inquiry into Kosovo, looking back and looking forward, but until that time we shall rely on these regular updates from you. Let me begin in this way: we have, today, in Brussels, the reconstruction meeting and, clearly, there will be pledged support for the reconstruction of Kosovo and the Balkans as a whole. The one great question mark is how now we deal with Serbia, which is led by an indicted war criminal. There is, though, increasing signs of opposition activity, but at least the working assumption must be that he will be there for some time, and if he were to be replaced it is possible he would be replaced by a similar individual. What is the scale and nature of assistance which, in your judgment, we should now give to Serbia? Do you rule in humanitarian aid to Serbia?

  (Mr Cook) Yes, and I have never made any bones about that. Obviously we would consider humanitarian aid to assist with the humanitarian plight of the people of Serbia, and we have always made it clear that our quarrel is not with the people of Serbia but with their regime. You, yourself, of course, Chairman, have already laid bare the fundamental problem in dealing with that regime, and that is that it is headed by an indicted war criminal[1]. It is our view that he should stand trial, like all indicted war criminals[2], and we plainly cannot do business as normal with him. It also goes further than that, insofar as we want to promote change within Serbia, in that it is plainly not consistent with our interests to do anything that enables Milosevic to claim credit with Serbians for having secured aid and fresh hope for the economy. There are many things that we can do in contact with others who might represent a more progressive voice for Serbia to the outside world, but the most useful message the international community can at present give Serbia is that they cannot expect the international community to assist in reconstruction so long as it is headed by somebody who is indicted for war crimes.

  275. Some of our European colleagues say that it is reasonable to give some form of reconstruction aid, if only because the economies of the Balkans are interlinked. If the infrastructure damage to destroyed bridges and so on in Serbia were not to be rebuilt it would have economic repercussions over the Balkans as a whole, and be an impediment to the proper reconstruction of the region. Do you rule out any form of infrastructural aid to Serbia?
  (Mr Cook) First of all, can I say that I would not accept there is any substantive difference between ourselves and our major European allies on this question. I had a very useful discussion among our major European allies in New York when I was there a fortnight ago, and we have agreed to continue with the Quint phone calls which we had almost daily during the conflict, although at a less intense level, in order to make sure that we maintain a common front and a common approach to reconstruction, both of the region and of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia itself. One of those will be happening tonight. Secondly, on the question of what do I rule in or rule out, the position is quite clear: on the one hand we would not resist—indeed we would support—the assistance of the humanitarian plight of the peopleof Serbia. On the other hand, we do not want to get into supporting Milosevic in a way in which he can turn round and say "I have secured agreement with the international community for massive reconstruction." These are not, of course, compartments where it is very easy to define a very clear break between the two. Undoubtedly there will be grey areas, and we need to discuss among ourselves to make sure we have a common approach. I am confident in that common approach.

  276. Do you believe the Danube should speedily be reopened with the implications for assistance to Serbia?
  (Mr Cook) The Danube, of course, is an important waterway for many countries, not just for Serbia, for those upstream and downstream. There is a view that we should make sure that the Danube is available as a waterway, which does not necessarily imply rebuilding the bridges but maybe it can involve making sure it is navigable.

Mr Heath

  277. Foreign Secretary, when talking about Serbia you are differentiating Serbia, I assume, within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, from Montenegro.
  (Mr Cook) Absolutely.

  278. Therefore, Montenegro is in receipt of immediate aid in terms of reconstruction.
  (Mr Cook) We seek, wherever possible, to make a distinction that is favourable to Montenegro. Throughout the conflict I repeatedly stressed our support for the democratic forces in Montenegro, and the very steadfast and courageous stand taken by the Government of Montenegro in distinction to the Government of Belgrade. We have repeated that commitment on every public statement we have made since the conflict ended, and, as I have said, one of the ways in which we can warn off President Milosevic from doing anything malign in Montenegro is to make sure that every time we make a statement on the region we single out Montenegro for our own special favour and our special support. We are seeking, where we can, to try and make sure that any economic measure that bears on Serbia and aimed at the regime in Belgrade does not have an impact on Montenegro. That is not a simple and straightforward issue, because they are part of one common market, but for all that we are working hard to try and find ways in which we can be supportive in Montenegro without weakening our general stance in Serbia.

  279. What is your assessment, Foreign Secretary, of the political situation in Montenegro? Is there any substance to reports that there are attempts to undermine President Djukanovic.
  (Mr Cook) There are no two ways about it, Belgrade would like to see Mr Djukanovic go. I do not think any observer would have any doubt in coming to that conclusion. Indeed, to be fair to Mr Milosevic, he makes no bones about it either, in his public as well as private statements. Our impression, at the present time, is that there is not an imminent threat. I do not wish to sound any note of complacency here; Belgrade must know we are watching carefully, we are alert and we would regard it as a breach of the spirit of our agreement with Belgrade if they were to take such a measure. Great Britain was very active, following conversations between myself and President Djukanovic, in making sure that when we reached the Military Technical Agreement it required the troops in Kosovo to withdraw to Serbia, precisely in order to prevent them being withdrawn to Montenegro and thereby strengthening the VJ presence there. My belief is that the VJ presence has declined since the conflict, with the demobilisation of the reservists, so that immediate military presence in Montenegro has come down somewhat, but it still remains very large.

1   Note by Witness: the correct term is "a war crimes indictee". Back

2   Note by Witness: the correct term is "war crimes indictees". Back

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