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Monday, 16 July, 2001, 13:19 GMT 14:19 UK
Belgrade in crisis: Pauline Neville-Jones quizzed
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The handover of Slobodan Milosevic to The Hague war crimes tribunal has thrown Yugoslavia into political turmoil.

The Yugoslav federation is being run by a caretaker government after the resignation of Prime Minister Zoran Zizic and fellow Montenegrin politicians, in protest at the decision to hand Milosevic over.

The resignations have raised questions about whether Yugoslavia is still viable as a federation.

This latest crisis comes as the country struggles to recover from years of sanctions, war and economic mismanagement.

Is Yugoslavia in danger of breaking up yet again? Is the political crisis paralysing attempts to rebuild the country? Can the Yugoslav federation survive yet more upheaval?

Dame Pauline Neville-Jones is a former high-ranking UK Foreign Office civil servant, who helped mediate the Rambouillet negotiations between the Yugoslavia Government and the Kosovo Albanians. She returns from the region on Thursday and joined us for a live forum.


Highlights of interview:


Newshost:

Marten King, Portland, Oregon, USA asks: What is your impression of the general mood of the country in regards to Mr. Milosevic's pending trial in The Hague? Are they unhappy enough with their economic situation to want him brought to justice, and does the average Serb feel that a trial in The Hague will, in fact, be fair?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

I think a lot of them recognise that Serbia now has a very large number of economic problems, I think because it bears on them in a daily way. I think that many of them separate their economic situation from their feelings about Milosevic. Many of them recognise however that in the real world they are not going to get help from the outside world, which they desperately need, unless they are willing to co-operate with the Hague court.

You will see if you go round Belgrade a lot of graffiti - some of it is "Milosevice Kill Yourself", "Milosevic Get Out", "Milosevic Should be Tried" and then in other places you will see - not as many but you will see a few - some that say "Milosevic Come Back". So they are not united and there are certainly a core - it is difficult to estimate how many, but people think not all that many - of people who still identify with him and see themselves as defenders of Serbia. Most of the country does not think that any longer. Most of them want a new start. They want to put the past behind them and they want to open up - a very large number of them want a relationship with the rest of Europe. I wouldn't say that was true of all of them, I think that some of them feel - Serbia is Serbia and we can hack it. But I think most of them think they need the help of the outside world and that is what they want - they want to reconnect.


Newshost:

Behind Marten's question seems to be a suggestion in some people's minds that Milosevic was in effect "sold" to the Hague in exchange for a huge amount of American aid negotiated in Brussels the very day after he was handed over.


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

There isn't any doubt that the incentive - to some extent the timetable - was related to the fact that there was a donor's conference. I think my own view is that a large part of the government machine was gearing up to do this anyway and it was very clear that if they didn't do then they were going to miss a major opportunity. You can say - ok they sold him. You can equally say - they responded to a serious incentive and they knew what the terms were.

After all this is a country that wants to be in the UN, claims to be a member of the United Nations. It was Milosevic himself who signed up to the Dayton terms and the Dayton terms say - co-operation with the Hague Court. So it is entirely in accordance with the obligations they themselves have signed up to. What they need to recognise - and I think a lot of them do - this is something that we need to do for our own sake, our own interest, it was an obligation we had and now we can make a new start.


Newshost:

The last part of Marten's question - will trial in fact be fair or will it simply be victor's justice?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

It's clearly going to be organised by people who were not on the same side as Serbia during that conflict - that is very clear. Is it victor's justice? I think that will depend entirely on the quality of the trial. I personally am confident that the trial will bend over backwards to give him a fair trial. I think personally it would be a thoroughly good thing if he had a really outstanding western lawyer who would be able therefore to defend him according to all western norms so that the trial is seen to be transparently fair. I think the answer is yes, he will get a fair trial - whether he will accept it as being a fair trial is a quite different issue because I don't think he thinks in the terms that those who are going to try him do.


Newshost:

Arno Buhrer, Belgrade asks: Why aren't The Hague judges also actively pursuing the thugs in Cambodia, Russia (for Chechnya atrocities), plus an assortment of African dictators with equal zeal as they have pursued Milosevic?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

There is a technical answer to that and there is a broader answer. The technical answer to that is that this particular tribunal is only concerned with the former Yugoslavia - it doesn't actually have a mandate that goes beyond that. So it doesn't have any authority in any other area.

The second question however is an interesting one because as a result of the setting up of that particular tribunal, an enormous push was given to the notion of having a standing international tribunal and subsequent to the setting up of the Hague Tribunal in relation to Yugoslavia, there has been the conference in Rome which led to the treaty which has to be ratified by a large number of countries before it can come into effect but will actually set up a standing international tribunal for the trial of crimes against humanity, genocide and war crimes. Now that isn't yet in effect because there aren't a sufficient number of ratifications and there is a problem, I fear, with the United States. The present administration is not in a position to ratify because Congress is not going to pass the legislation.

However, I would say we are seeing a major movement in the whole area of international law and the development of a system whereby national sovereignty will not be necessarily the last word. In other words, you aren't going to be able to justify your conduct under national law - there is going to be, I think, over time, an international justice which takes precedence but we are not there yet. So the answer to the question is that we aren't there yet but it is moving in that direction and one of the effects of Yugoslav conflict is to give that kind of justice a hell of a push.


Newshost:

Robel Yemane, Mai-Temenay, USA asks: The resignation of Prime Minster Zoran Zizic will not put Yugoslavia in danger or break up. Do you agree that Yugoslavia is on it's way to becoming a democratic society?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

I think it is at the moment on the cusp - that is to say, I think and I hope that it will happen. I don't think it's yet irreversible. Talking to people there and talking to those who are in a sense most committed to wanting to make this a modern, liberal and democratic society - the way they put it to me and I think it is right, is that we are trying to make this thing irreversible. I think they recognise that it isn't yet.

Why isn't it yet? I think that a large number of people in the country who have had a very hard time and a lot of them feel that they have had a very time, including from the West - given the bombing. So it is not obvious to them that they way to the future is to commit themselves to a relationship with their western European neighbours or to the United States and therefore I think one of the things that has to happen - and this is very important - that in the next few months the promises that have been made in this donors' conference actually do produce material benefit. It requires a lot of endurance and commitment on the part of the Serbs and it requires help from the outside world - then they will make it because there are huge human resources there but it isn't yet irreversible.


Newshost:

Dean Moriarty, Manchester, England asks: Why is it important that Yugoslavia remains? Is Montenegro viable as a separate entity?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

Opinions differ. I think you could have a state that survived on a combination of a small number of interests they have got and the tourist trade. Personally, I think that Montenegro has a better future if it is actually part of a larger entity.

Does it really matter and does it really matter to Serbia? Opinions are very divided on that. One can understand that - we all have feelings about our own union. I think there are quite a lot of Serbs who want to try and preserve their union. I think it is true to say that most Serbs from Serbia feel less strongly about the possible separation of Montenegro than they feel about Kosovo - they really do feel strongly about that.


Newshost:

But does the West have to resist independence for Montenegro because that opens up the prospect of independence for Kosovo and all the problems that would create?


Pauline Neville-Jones:

The West's position really is that if people agree to separate peacefully in agreement, there is no right for any outside party to say no you can't. The issue is - is the attempt going to be illegal i.e. non-agreement. There the West has a very strong position because one illegality is the precedent for another illegality. If the Serbs and Montenegrins agree there is separation, the West isn't going to oppose that. As long as there is disagreement or an attempt to force the hand on either side, that is not something that the West is going to endorse.


Newshost:

Sridhar Rajaram, Kanpur,India asks: What steps should the international community take to tackle the menace of armed elements among the Albanian population in Kosovo spreading their activities to other parts of the Balkans, like they are doing in Macedonia?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

I think in many ways there are lots and lots of cross-currents among the Albanians who are active. Some of them are simply, I think, troublemakers - there is a great deal of banditry. This is a society has a great deal of clan in it which is not really accustomed to settling down under an organised state. Undoubtedly there is continuing resistance and not to give the West the idea that they are going to settle down under a Kosovo regime which may eventually return to Serbia.

There is another stream which sees opportunities to advance that cause by also by making trouble the other side of the border. The difficulty is that Macedonia is a society that is multi-cultural and multi-lingual and it isn't all that strong and you can very easily stir up what is otherwise a relatively quiescent situation into something which is actually quite turbulent.

You have got to do two or three things simultaneously. You have got to cut the links - these are separate countries and the international forces are trying to do just that. Secondly, you have to continue your political efforts in Kosovo and you then you have to embark on something which is much more sustained in Macedonia than has previously been attempted - to try and get some long-range settlement between the Albanian portion of the population and the Macedonians themselves.

I would say we are not guaranteed success but I think there is some hope that sustained, rather unglamorous diplomacy will actually have some results.


Newshost:

George Monbiot, Oxford, UK asks: During 1995, according to Lord Hurd, you were "in touch with NatWest Markets about the possibility of going to the bank." At the same time you were leading the British delegation to the Dayton talks, at which you pressed for the abolition of sanctions against Milosevic's Serbia. In 1996, you joined NatWest, and promptly began representing the bank in Serbia, helping to fund Milosevic's government with major investments. Was this not a gross conflict of interest? Did you not help to prolong his regime, both at Dayton and then through your private activities?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

I think some facts need sorting out in all of that. First, when I was at Dayton I had no links with NatWest at all. I was entirely working for the government so there was no link there of any kind. Moreover when you say I was pressing for sanctions - part of the deal which brought the conclusion at Dayton was an allied position and included the Americans - that if the Serbs signed up to the demands that were being made of them, the sanctions that had been put on them, which related to those terms, would be lifted or suspended. So not a Neville- Jones position, this was an allied position - so that is the first point.

I then worked for Karl Bilt for six months and then thereafter I joined NatWest. When I got to NatWest which was something like nine months after Dayton, I discovered that NatWest - which was perfectly legal for them to do, given that sanctions had been suspended - had been seeking business in Serbia and I knew nothing about that previously - I was not the person who went out and got them the business. I have to say that I was not in that division or anything else, I was actually in the executive office. I was in a quite different part of NatWest Markets. Naturally, my view was sought - what do you think? To which my reaction was - we need to be very careful - this is a government on probation.

It is hard to remember, given what happened subsequently, that there was a period during which - in a sense - the world said - more the Europeans than the Americans it has to be said - ok they've signed up, sanctions have been lifted, they say they want to modernise their country, obviously they need to liberalise their country. A number of European firms - not just NatWest Markets by any means - went for business there. The British Embassy - not the only embassy - also had people inside there actually trying to promote trade. So this was a perfectly normal part of international business.


Newshost:

Let's get to the essentials because the fact is that you and Douglas Hurd - the former Foreign Secretary and now Lord Hurd - helped to negotiate a deal which gave the Milosevic regime a significant amount of money in exchange for partial privatisation of Serbian Telecoms. Many people would argue, George Monbiot amongst them, that that deal certainly helped to keep the regime in power possibly longer than it might otherwise have done.


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

I wouldn't try to argue that it didn't help him as things turned out.


Newshost:

Do you regret it?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

Let me just go to the story because it is all very to have the wisdom of hindsight. My personal issue in all of this was - is this a regime that you can reputably do business with? This famous breakfast - which has frankly caused me so much trouble in my life - I went along as the note-taker and I took a note to see what the guy said and he was saying all the right things.

Now the deal was not the deal that lots of people think it was - what NatWest was doing was advisory work. That was to say how you can modernise your telecoms regime and put in a state where actually it can function or you can then decide to sell it or whatever. We didn't sell it because advisory work and sales are different things.


Newshost:

But NatWest profited by the sale.


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

Yes but not these large sums of money. Advisory work is something for which you get paid a fee. But the sale price was paid by the Italians so the big money in all of this was an Italian deal and that was negotiated between the Serb government and the Italian government.


Newshost:

So Slobodan Milosevic, as the ruler of Yugoslavia, to meet you as someone he was used to seeing and saw at Dayton and to meet a former British Foreign Secretary in this context - surely that in itself gave encouragement to him that the West was continuing to endorse the way in which he was running his country at the very least?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

Well no, I don't think it did give him that. There is no doubt that he knew us but he knew a lot of other people too. I think that the effect, undoubtedly, was that, I suppose he had confidence and thought well I know these people. What happened, I suppose, was we monitored the situation very closely and it became fairly clear within a few months that actually he was not playing the game. He was clamping down again and the test of course were the elections and we decided this is not a regime with which we want to do deals and so the bank effectively ended its relationship. So there was one piece of business. When you are in a contractual relationship with a client you have got to finish your contractual relationship. You can't just break contracts. So this was a relatively short-term relationship and then we stopped.

Did our advisory business keep him in power? I think you can greatly exaggerate the effect of all of this, to be frank. But it was certainly after that we didn't intend to do anymore business with that guy.


Newshost:

Are you expecting to be called as a witness at his trial in the Hague? It is possible that he will call you as a defence witness and Lord Hurd as well.


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

For what reason? For goodness sake, he is being accused of war crimes.


Newshost:

He is going to attempt to show, that he got signals from the West throughout his period of office, when you were a leading diplomat and civil servant and when Douglas Hurd was Foreign Secretary, that he was getting signals from the West that in some way encouraged him to pursue the sort of policies he was pursing. You know that is what is going to try to do?


Dame Pauline Neville-Jones:

It's total rubbish isn't it? It is total rubbish to argue that because you did an advisory piece of work or there was a business relationship on one thing that this somehow is a defence against charges which led to mass carnage. I frankly think that is ludicrous.

See also:

06 Jul 01 | Europe
Where are Karadzic and Mladic?
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