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FRI, 25 MAY 2001 01:04:20 GMT

Diplomatic Meeting in Tirana Jeopardised by One Pronoun

AIM Tirana, May 19, 2001

Joint Declaration of the regular annual Meeting of Foreign Ministers of countries of the South-East European Cooperation Process - SEECP, which concluded its work on May 16 in Tirana, had positive reverberations in diplomatic circles and public opinion, both within the region and beyond. However, very few people know that it was adopted semi-secretly, not to mention that at one point there was a risk that it would not be see the day of light at all. One pronoun brought into question the success of Foreign Ministers Meeting, which was held at the time of crises and conflicts in Macedonia and in the South of Serbia. The Albanian Foreign Minister, Milo, who presided over this meeting as SEECP Chairman in Office, refused to accept the Joint Declaration in which the pronoun such directly related to terrorist acts of Albanian extremists in Macedonia. The Chairman interrupted the meeting and called upon the heads of delegations to bring pressure to bear on the Macedonian delegation to delete the pronoun "such" from the text. Only an hour and a half after it consulted with Skoplje, the Macedonian delegation agreed to replace the pronoun "such" with another one, "this", and thus save face of all sides.

Nevertheless, the diplomatic meeting in Tirana was the first SEECP meeting at which the Joint Declaration was not adopted formally in the Conference Hall, but aside at a closed-door meeting of heads of delegations only. For the sake of truth it should be said that this meeting was not the first one that nearly did not produce a joint declaration, because last November the Committee of Political Departments of the SEECP countries held in Skoplje, on the eve of the Zagreb Summit of countries of the European Union and attended by several Balkan countries, did not succeed in adopting a joint declaration.

What happened at the Foreign Ministers' Meeting in Tirana with the Joint Declaration is very important for understanding the climate in the diplomatic underground of the region. It sounds somewhat absurd, but it is a fact that at major diplomatic meetings at various levels within the regional SEECP initiative, member countries do not always try to find some central common grounds in these Declarations, but each of them rather attempts to prove that its stands are closer to declarations or resolutions of the EU, OUN, OSCE or Council of Europe.

And while Albania and Macedonia clashed regarding the term to be used for the NLA (UCK) guerrilla fighters in Macedonia (whether they should be called extremists or terrorists), Bosnia and Turkey disagreed whether separatism in Bosnia should be criticised. Macedonia, which tried to profit from the all-round international supportive surrounding, insisted on the inclusion of all of its accusations against Albanian extremists in the text, but was also against every proposal on inter-ethnic dialogue and inter-ethnic society, which was contained in all recently international documents on Macedonia adopted. Skoplje made another last minute's attempt to push through its initiative on the seizure of small arms, but Albania resolutely opposed this pointing out that this initiative had been launched in the region long ago with the participation of Albania, USA, Norway and Germany.

It seems that it is very difficult for the diplomatic mechanism of regional cooperation to function independently, which can be proved by a number of elements. A month earlier, on April 12, 2001, when the American State Secretary, Collin Powell convened a Skoplje meeting of 11 Foreign Ministers of the countries of the region, although it was organised in a hurry, all 11 Ministers without exception came to Skoplje. However half of Foreign Ministers of these countries did not appear at the only regular annual Meeting of the Regional Cooperation Process held in Tirana. The only one to inform the hosts in advance of his inability to attend, was the Rumanian Foreign Minister, M. Geoana, who had previous engagements within OSCE where he is Chairman in Office, while the Bulgarian Foreign Minister, Nadezda Mihajlova and the Turkish Foreign Minister, Ismail Cem, did not confirm their arrival until the last moment and, according to diplomatic sources, even then did not offer Tirana very convincing reasons for not coming.

A comforting element regarding this Meeting of Foreign Ministers is the fact that two new Foreign Minister took part in it for the first time - Goran Svilanovic, who represented FRY for the first time at such a gathering after three years of FR Yugoslavia's absence due to its isolation on account of the Kosovo events. Svilanovic was also the first Yugoslav Foreign Minister to set foot in Albania after ten years, i.e. since October 1990 when the then Yugoslav Foreign Minister, Budimir Loncar, attended the Conference of Balkan Foreign Ministers, which was held in Tirana at that time. This was also the first time after her election to the new Government in Skoplje, which had been formed on a broad basis, that Ilinka Mitreva, Foreign Minister of Macedonia, appeared outside her country in her capacity as a Minister at an international gathering precisely in Tirana. But, it can be said that Svilanovic and Mitreva were the ones who needed the Tirana Meeting the most.

An element that attracted the attention at the Tirana meeting was the non-participation of Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindt (Chairperson in Office of the European Union), Chris Paten (EU Foreign Policy Commissioner) and George Robertson (NATO Secretary General) in the meeting's deliberations although they were all in Tirana on May 16, i.e. on the day the meeting of Foreign Ministers of the countries of the region was being held. It seems that they did not come as they had no special message to convey to the Foreign Ministers at the time of conflicts in Macedonia. However, there an impression was also gained that for great centres of international politics diplomatic meetings within the SEECP are not of the desirable level and that their preoccupation are only the capitals of the region. For Tirana, the arrival of the mentioned high officials from Brussels was great encouragement, because in the eyes of its Balkan supporters, on that same day Albania welcomed the highest representatives of two major international organisations: the European Union and the NATO.

It seems that their absence from the Meeting of Foreign Ministers was directly related to the very process of regional cooperation. This is an important element for understanding this process, as well as the ability of member states to articulate the region's voice at important round tables. It is clear that until countries of the region show that they attach special importance to the process of their initiative - the SEECP - they should not expect the European Union or NATO to do so. In other words, it could be said that the South-East European Cooperation Process - SEECP has started to fade and, although they do not say it openly, this opinion is shared by the majority of capitals of South-East European region since they are the ones responsible for that.

AIM Tirana

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