American Visit in Zagreb

In the prepared program of the visit, only a small detail was unusual, which, with the great expectation of the host and waiting for the news brought by the guest, could not be accidental. On the contrary, it was carefully planned as a sort of completion of diplomatic trials made in the last year.

US Justice Minister Jeff Sessions visited Zagreb in the second half of this week. Yesterday, together with ministers and state prosecutors from Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia, he participated in a regional workshop on transnational organized crime. The issues of the functioning of organized and interconnected criminal groups in the Balkans are part of the interests of the US intelligence services, regardless of the colour of the Washington administration. And they have great information.

A few years ago, when I was an ambassador in Belgrade, my US colleague Bill Montgomery called me and asked me to receive one of his associates together with the consul, Jožef Keček. This man soon arrived with a message that a couple of hours before that, from a hotel in the capital of a South American country, a package containing forged Slovenian passports was sent and he handed over the names and surnames as well as the addresses of those who participated in this transaction. The Slovenian government had, especially in the period of the government led by Dr Janez Drnovšek, excellent relations with Washington. And of course, then, there was a much greater American interest in Slovenian assistance in their understanding of the relations in the region. In the first days of December 1999, I had conversations, accompanied by then General Director of Slovenian Police Andrej Podvršič, with US Justice Minister Janet Reno, and FBI Chief Louis Freeh. The official part of the meeting ended with the exchange of personal telephone numbers and the advice of Minister Reno that we can call her or Freeh at any time and that she always personally answer this number. We had really good and successful relationships.
But nevertheless, let us return to yesterday’s meeting in Zagreb and the reason why the Slovenian Ministry of Foreign Affairs should not miss it. To be more specific, the cooperation of the US Minister of Justice at a regional conference is only part of his Zagreb visit, though significant. But this time, not the most interesting. Minister Jeff Sessions also has, within his visit schedule, a regular protocol meeting with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenković, Minister of the Interior, as well as my colleague Ambassador Davin Božinović. His meeting with the Croatian State Secretary in Plenković’s Government, Andreja Metelko Zgombić, an influential lady who has been following, analysing and politically assessing all the details of Croatian-Slovenian relations for the last ten or more years, has been planned for the end.

Precisely this meeting is unusual. Although, only at first glance.

On July sixth last year, in the capital of Poland, Warsaw, a meeting of the initiators of the so-called Three Sea Initiative, which should encourage and strengthen the co-operation of the countries in the triangle of the Adriatic, Baltic and Black Seas, was held. The content of a large and very ceremonial meeting was not the most important.

More interesting was the part of Kolinda Grabar Kitarović’s talk with US President Donald Trump, who took part in the opening part of the meeting. The Croatian president said that she primarily appreciated the fact that the United States understand that there is no dispute about the arbitration ruling, that the issue of the border between Slovenia and Croatia is only and only bilateral. On the same day, Slovenian State Secretary Iztok Mirošič met with the then-US Foreign Minister Rex Tillerson, fired by Trump later, and handed him a letter requesting for respect for the international legal order and the arbitral tribunal’s ruling on the establishment of the interstate border.
Then a couple of weeks of silence followed. Only the Croatian president was becoming more and more convinced that the United States is a key Croatian ally in denying and rejecting the decision of the international arbitration tribunal. That the American position on the arbitration would have a decisive international significance. She said that the Croatian army would buy used US military jet planes and dozen of drones to control the Croatian sea, and that it would cooperate in US policies in the Balkans.

On 12 October 2017, a letter sent from Washington arrived in Ljubljana. It was addressed to Slovenian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karel Erjavec. Rex Tillerson wrote to him. Also on the border issue with Croatia. The letter did not mention the arbitration agreement or the judgement of the arbitral tribunal. But, the emphasis was on the expectation that the two countries would resolve border issues with a negotiated solution.
All the next steps were taken by Interior Minister Božinović. At the end of January this year, he signed in Washington an agreement on strengthening of co-operation and crime-fighting. But that was not the central goal of the visit. During his signing, Božinović talked with US Deputy Foreign Minister Wess Mitchell, perhaps even primarily, on the genesis of the border issue dispute resolution with Slovenia, and on the Croatian decision that it was only a bilateral issue requiring a new beginning of mutual negotiations.
As could be read from the transcript of the conversation, Mitchell’s response was that he expected that the states would be able to constructively agree and expressed the readiness of the Trump administration to help reach an agreement. The Minister of Justice, Jeff Sessions, was informed about the conversation.

In this context, his today’s and yesterday’s visit to Zagreb and the meeting with State Secretary Andreja Metelko Zgombić is no longer a coincidence, but it gets even a central significance. Obviously, the topic of the talks will be the issue of the Slovenian – Croatian border at sea.


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