Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK)

Michael Barkin
Senior Policy Advisor
U.S. Mission to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 31, 2019


Thank you Mr. President, and let me join the voices congratulating South Africa on an extremely successful month of Presidency, and thank you to each of the briefers, although that may not be the appropriate word today.

UNMIK was established in 1999 to resolve what was then a “grave humanitarian situation in Kosovo” and I was personally privileged to be there that year on the ground as part of the team that stood up the United States Mission, which is now the United Sates Embassy. At the time, and through the subsequent years, we’ve worked closely with other missions and with the United Nations on the ground to carry out the requirements of the mandate including guaranteeing public safety and providing an interim administration for Kosovo, which is now the government of Kosovo. Twenty years later, every single one of the goals enumerated as a mandate obligation and a Security Council resolution has either been substantially completed, or become obsolete, as the sovereign, independent government of Kosovo has assumed responsibility for them. It is high time for the United Nations and the Security Council to acknowledge this fact. The simple truth is that while the international community and the UN can provide a useful supporting role in Kosovo’s democratic development, they no longer need a peacekeeping mission to do so. So today, we reiterate our call for a clear plan to reform or phase out UNMIK.

To further these efforts and move the parties towards a stable peace, President Trump appointed Ambassador Richard Grenell as the Special Presidential Envoy for Kosovo-Serbia Peace Talks. Ambassador Grenell has already visited the region to urge progress towards an agreement – a clear demonstration of U.S. commitment. This appointment isn’t about choosing sides, but rather seeking resolution. Tariffs imposed by Kosovo on Serbian goods worsen the situation, for example, while Serbia’s de-recognition campaign of Kosovo’s independence fuels unnecessary tensions. With further respect to the individual countries, we encourage Kosovo’s leaders, following its democratic October elections, to quickly form a government that is pro-dialogue and prepared to suspend tariffs on Serbian goods.

Likewise, we urge Serbia to refrain from provocations and cease its de-recognition campaign against Kosovo. Serbia and Kosovo must both accelerate reforms to strengthen the rule of law and address corruption and organized crime. We also encourage both countries to involve wide segments of society in their political processes, including women – the importance of whose meaningful participation we have reiterated so many times this week. I would note that we have heard a lot today about the May 28th incident. Thank you special representative Tanin for sharing the results of the investigation, and we hope to see it in written form. Like every country represented here, the United States strongly supports Kosovo’s efforts to combat smuggling, corruption, and organized crime throughout the territory of Kosovo.

The United States expresses serious concerns about excessive police force against any UN staff, and supports the safety and security of all UN personnel. However, we continue to find the presence of UNMIK staff at that police operation troubling, as it risked and ultimately resulted in a confrontation that could have been avoided. Incidents such as this one raise many questions from different perspectives and underscores the need for a thorough review of UNMIK’s mandate and standard operating procedures in order to ensure the Mission does not inhibit Kosovo’s democratic development or obstruct legitimate law enforcement efforts.

Fellow Council members, today we have heard a great deal of rhetoric, which does not promote peaceful resolution of this situation. We all know exactly what is needed: Kosovo and Serbia must together reach an agreement to comprehensively normalize relations.

We the international community must work together and separately, to recognize that actions that work against normalization are fruitless to encourage, sorry. To encourage both countries to recognize that actions that work against normalization of relations are fruitless and counterproductive, hindering their economic development, social progress, and integration with Europe and the West. They will never lead to resolution. If we take our mandate seriously, it is progress towards this goal, a stable peace for all citizens of Kosovo, that needs our attention and resources – not to an outmoded mission whose goals have already been achieved.

Thank you.