NEW DIPLOMATIC CHANNEL OPEN TO IMPROVE RELATIONS BETWEEN CROATIA AND SERBIA

Posted on December 11, 2011


C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 ZAGREB 000055 SIPDIS NOFORN PLEASE PASS TO EUR/SCE E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/21/2020 TAGS: PREL PREF SR HR SUBJECT: NEW DIPLOMATIC CHANNEL OPEN TO IMPROVE RELATIONS BETWEEN CROATIA AND SERBIA REF: A. ZAGREB 00026      B. ZAGREB 00032      C. 09 ZAGREB774      D. 09 ZAGREB 746 Classified By: PolOff Peter D’Amico, Reasons 1.4 B/D 1. (C/NF) Summary.  In a meeting on January 20, MFA State Secretary Bozinovic discussed with the Ambassador the recently opened channel with Serbian President Boris Tadic to improve bilateral relations.  Bozinovic believed there was good will on both sides to try and tackle the complicated open issues and described his meeting with Tadic in Belgrade on December 23 and a follow up meeting in Zagreb with Tadic,s advisors on January 19.  These discussions are known to only a small circle of officials in Croatia and Serbia. Another meeting should take place in Belgrade in the next few weeks.  Bozinovic said one of the main outstanding issues for the GoC was the fate of missing persons while the Serbian side’s main concern was refugees.  Bozinovic explained why Croatia opposed the Serbian position on the issue of compensating refugees who did not want to return to Croatia. He said that if there were progress on this and other outstanding issues it was likely Croatia would drop its ICJ genocide suit.  Both sides discussed how they could help improve the situation in Bosnia.  Bozinovic said that although Tadic would not attend President-elect Josipovic,s inauguration, other high-level official visits were likely to happen in the near future.  The new channel between Zagreb and Belgrade is a welcome development, but bridging the gap between both sides will likely require major work and comprehensive deal on the unresolved issues from the war. End Summary. Secret Channel Between Zagreb and Belgrade 2. (C/NF) In a meeting on January 20, MFA State Secretary Davor Bozinovic discussed recent efforts via the newly opened channel with Serbian President Boris Tadic to improve bilateral relations (ref A).  Bozinovic said that when Tadic called PM Kosor in December to discuss the then-planned visit of President Mesic to Kosovo in early January, Kosor suggested using the model she had employed with Slovenia — having close advisors quietly meet to work on resolving outstanding issues.  Tadic decided a few weeks later to accept the proposal and Bozinovic, who earlier served as Ambassador to Serbia, went to Belgrade as the PM,s envoy on December 23 to see the Serbian President.  Bozinovic said that they talked for over an hour about bilateral relations as well as the domestic situation in Croatia, particularly what role former PM Sanader was playing in decision making. (Note: This was prior to Sanader,s failed attempt to stage a political comeback at Kosor,s expense.  End note.)  Tadic and Bozinovic agreed it was time for both sides to find solutions to outstanding issues, such as the fate of missing persons, border demarcation, refugees, and the return of cultural items.  Bozinovic said he did not reply directly to Tadic,s question about Croatia,s genocide suit against Serbia, commenting that all of the outstanding issues are connected with the breakup of Yugoslavia and that the genocide suit could be resolved if those issues were resolved.  He said this seemed to be the position of both President-elect Josipovic and PM Kosor. 3. (C/NF) Following this first encounter, Tadic sent his advisors Jovan Ratkovic and Mladan Djordjevic to Zagreb on January 19 to continue the discussion with Bozinovic and PM Kosor,s Foreign Policy Advisor Davor Stier.  For the Croatians, one of the particularly sensitive issues raised was determining the fate of missing persons from the war. The Serbian MOD was believed to have more information about possible grave sites where the missing persons might be located, and the GoC wanted to make greater progress on bringing closure to the victims and their families. Refugees 4. (C/NF) The main issue for the Serbian side was refugees. Bozinovic noted that there had also been a working level conference among countries in the region on refugees in Zagreb on January 15 (ref B).  Bozinovic claimed that 8 percent of the state budget goes to resolving issues from the war and that politically there was no longer any sensitivity on the Croatian side preventing refugees in Serbia to return to Croatia if they wanted to.  What was most difficult to find agreement on was the issue of former tenancy right holders, in particular the Serbian demand that Croatia provide compensation to those who wanted to remain in Serbia or Bosnia, rather than return and re-integrate in Croatia. ZAGREB 00000055  002 OF 003 Bozinovic called this demand impossible from a legal, political, and even economic perspective given the estimated 30 billion Euros in damages inflicted by Serbia on Croatia during the war.  He questioned how individuals who had left Croatia nearly 20 years ago and were well integrated in another country could be characterized as refugees requiring compensation, and insisted on the development of updated statistics to determine the exact number of people who still qualified as refugees under international law (i.e., those who had not obtained citizenship or a job in Serbia).  Once the concrete number was established, Bozinovic said the GoC would support the creation of an international fund to assist such people, adding that Croatia wanted to help those in genuine need as long as it was not placed under a new obligation to do so. 5. (C/NF) Bozinovic noted that the GoS under Milosovic had manipulated the refugees into believing they could not return, so as to boost the number of ethnic Serbs living in Kosovo and Vojvodina.  He expressed concern that the refugees were now being used as a tool either to extract money from Croatia by attempting to link the issue to Croatia,s EU entry or to delay Croatia,s EU accession.  The Ambassador said that it was good that there were bilateral discussions on the refugee issue and that USG urged both sides to consider creative solutions. Other Issues 6. (C/NF) Addressing other outstanding issues, Bozinovic was positive about the progress that had been made regarding the return of cultural items.  Regarding border questions, Bozinovic believed that, if it was not possible to reach a bilateral agreement, both sides would likely find it acceptable to send the case to the ICJ.  He thought the issue of missing persons from the war would be difficult to address.  Bozinovic also noted that Croatia had officially decided to give the Croatian translation of the EU’s “acquis communautaire” to all other Southeastern European countries that wanted a copy, including Serbia (ref C). 7. (C/NF) Potential cooperation on Bosnia-Herzegovina (BiH) was the key foreign policy issue discussed.  Bozinovic suggested that Serbia and Croatia cooperate in particular in support of BiH,s NATO aspirations.  Ratkovic and Djordjevic said that it had been a mistake not to give MAP to BiH, particularly since withholding it provided little leverage over Dodik, who was indifferent about joining NATO. 8. (C/NF) Ratkovic and Djordjevic told the Croats that Tadic had clearly stated he would not support a referendum for secession in Republika Srpska (RS) and that he would do what he could to follow up on his pledge to Vice President Biden to persuade RS PM Dodik to be constructive.  However, the Serbs said it was unrealistic to expect Tadic to tell the Bosnian Serbs that Sarajevo is their capital, as Croatian President Mesic had told the Bosnian Croats.  At one point in the discussion on BiH, Ratkovic and Djordjevic commented that 99 percent of the Serbs in the RS would like to join Serbia and 99 percent of the Bosnian Croats would like to join Croatia.  Bozinovic said he restated the GoC position in support of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of BiH, with equality among its three constituent peoples. 9. (C/NF) Bozinovic noted that Kosovar President Sejdiu had officially confirmed that he would attend Josipovic,s inauguration, so Tadic would not be coming.  Tadic had boxed himself in and precluded quiet diplomacy by delivering a public ultimatum that he would not attend if Sejdiu was there.  However, Bozinovic said that Serbian PM Cvetkovic would likely travel to Zagreb soon, and that Josipovic would likely go to Belgrade some time after that.  Bozinovic posited that Tadic would come to Zagreb in the second half of 2010. 10. (C/NF) Bozinovic said that he and Stier were expecting to go to Belgrade for another round of discussions in several weeks.  He noted that these discussions were so far only known to a small circle of people in Croatia and Serbia.  As far as Bozinovic was aware, in Croatia only his and the PM,s staff, Justice Minister Simonovic, FM Jandrokovic, Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) Party Leader Milorad Pupovac, Deputy PM Slobodan Uzelac, and MOD State Secretary Pjer Simunovic knew about his trip to Belgrade.  Bozinovic noted that, if it had not been done already by the PM, it would be important to brief President-elect Josipovic and to establish a joint approach by both leaders toward Serbia.  In Serbia, Bozinovic was only aware that the new Serbian Ambassador to Croatia Vukicevic and Tadic,s close advisors ZAGREB 00000055  003 OF 003 knew about the channel.  Ambassador Foley strongly encouraged the continuation of the bilateral dialogue and pledged U.S. readiness to assist both sides in improving relations. Comment 11. (C/NF) The new channel between Zagreb and Belgrade is obviously a welcome development, one that we will want to encourage.  As difficult as the outstanding issues will be to resolve, it is certain that there is no chance of resolving them in the public domain, as underscored by the most recent war of words.  Certainly Kosor, by virtue of her experience with Slovenia, believes that quiet diplomacy can pay dividends.  But the lesson of that example is also that success requires compromise.  In the case of Croatia and Serbia, this will mean time-consuming and painstaking work to forge a broad strategic deal on a number of outstanding issues from the war in 1990s, such as missing persons, refugees, the ICJ genocide suits, and potential reparations claims (ref D).  Achieving this kind of comprehensive agreement will likely require active support from the two sides, US and European partners. FOLEY