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December 7, 1996
. Vreme News Digest Agency No 270
Interview: Richard Miles

Dramatic Crisis

by Ljiljana Smajlovic

At about the same time as Richard Miles, chief of the US mission in Belgrade, on Wednesday, November 28, was answering the questions as posed by VREME's reporter, the students of the University of Belgrade, who are protesting against the annulment of the results of the second round of the local elections in Serbia, for the second day in a row, were marching past his embassy in no. 50 Kneza Milosa Street. The previous day, on Tuesday, they were chanting in approval U-S-A. On Wednesday they burned the American flag. All this somehow coincided with the results of the newest poll of Serbian public opinion which USIA (American States Information Agency) announced in Washington. It can be deduced by the poll that Serbian dissatisfaction with America in October of this year was on it's downwards path: while in October of 1995, 88 percent of the polled in Serbia expressed a negative attitude towards the United States, in October of this year the number of those who are dissatisfied dropped to 60 percent.

Were you surprised by the criticism that, owing to your pre-election visits to the plants throughout Serbia, you had created the impression that you were supporting the regime of President Milosevic?

(Laughs) I thought you would never ask! Yes, I was very unpleasantly surprised. I thought that criticism wasn't fair.

The deputy spokesman of the State Department Glen Davies stated yesterday in Washington that this week you have met with President Milosevic twice and that you had demanded that he respect the will of the nation?

I have no doubt that Davies gave such a statement, yet I "demand" nothing of the leaders of sovereign countries. We spoke of the situation and I explained the American policies and stands.

Did he explain his policies to you?

Actually, I met with him today as well... A dialogue exists between us, and we definitely do not see eye to eye with regards to the way in which the government is dealing with this crisis. And this is a truly dramatic crisis. During my meetings with President Milosevic I explained to him the position of my government and we spoke of possible solutions to the conflict. He explained his stand. That's a dialogue. No one demands anything.

Our president failed to publicly explain his stand. Could you tell us what it is?

I could, but I won't. That wouldn't be fair. I don't know why he isn't more accessible to the people. I suppose that's his style.

At the beginning, it appeared that the State Department was very restrained and cautious in it's reactions to the newest occurrences in Serbia, but then, as the number of people on the streets of Belgrade increased, Washington rhetorics went into full swing. However, apart from a change of rhetorics, no changes in the policy are announced. More of the same is announced - we still won't recognize Yugoslavia, we still won't lift the outer wall of the sanctions... What action did you recommend to your government?

First of all, I don't believe that it is absolutely true that rhetorics went into full swing due to an increased number of demonstrators on the street. The concern of the State Department increased on account of the same reasons which brought a larger numbers of demonstrators to the streets, which are the court rulings which seem to have deprived the opposition of seats which they had won and for which the majority of the viewers agree that the opposition had won. We didn't evaluate the previous round of elections as completely positive either. There were certain irregularities. Nobody in the world expects perfection, but the question is, how many irregularities, and where those irregularities appear. As those irregularities were more flagrant, our reaction was stronger.

It is true that we are in a certain dilemma when people ask us of the concrete steps which we would undertake to express our open displeasure. Therefore, what shall we undertake with regards to it? We have strengthened rhetorics, I have started speaking in public, which I had previously avoided; I prefer quiet diplomacy behind the scenes.

The democratic opposition in Serbia, apparently, isn't satisfied by the support which it is receiving from your government?

Let's go back for a moment. The last time John Cornbloom was in Belgrade, he asked the journalists and the opposition for their opinion: should America normalize it's relations, or should it isolate Yugoslavia. And if you remember, opinions were divided in those circles. Therefore, there is no easy answer for that question.

We know how things went with the journalists, but what did the opposition advise?

Some believe that we can influence Mr. Milosevic by maintaining frozen relations. Others have a different opinion. I wouldn't like to say who thinks what. Opinions are divided. Ask them yourselves!

Last summer the State Department with regards to the Hungarian-Romanian conflict on minorities expressed their stand on Hungarian national minorities. Is such a State Department stand conceivable with regards to the rights of the Albanian minority on Kosovo?

In relation to Kosovo, we would formulate that somewhat differently. We support the right to form independent administration for the Albanians on Kosovo yet at the same time we also support the territorial integrity of Serbia and Montenegro. That, by definition, means that we do not support the independence or secession of Kosovo. We don't use the term "political autonomy" too often, and instead give priority to the term "self-rule", an independent administration, self-management. We have never set forward how such self-management should be constituted, we don't make those rules.

What is your opinion of the criticism in the American press that your administration has opted for stability on the Balkans instead of for democracy?

Even when we are dealing with authoritarian regimes, we have to deal with the people who are in power. We endeavor to influence them to operate as they should. Because we are Americans, we endeavor to support human rights, since we believe that's the way it should be. It is useful to meet up with Mr. Milosevic and speak of this crisis and expound our opinion to him. At the same time, I strive to maintain relations with the opposition as well in order to be able to advise my government in a better way. Both of those aspects are required, yet contradiction exists there. Neither side is satisfied because of our contacts with the other side. Our business in the US embassy is to protect the interests of our own country.

Personal style is apparent there as well. Which is why Warren Zimermann and those who had worked with him acted in one way, while I act in another. Naturally, the situation has undergone a radical change. We all carry out our duties on the basis of our personal experience and character.

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