The Vice President, from Sarajevo to Beirut
From May 19th to May 22nd the Vice President Joe Biden set out on a three-day tour of Southeastern Europe, traveling to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo, as well as to Lebanon for the final leg of his trip. He met with political leaders, as well as U.S. officials and troops stationed in the region. The aim of the trip was to demonstrate renewed U.S. interest in the Balkans, a region the Vice President is familiar with from his travels in the Senate.
The Vice President began his trip with a visit to Sarajevo, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The Vice President met with the Bosnian Tri-Presidency, as well as other government officials before addressing the Bosnian Parliament. He was accompanied by the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy for the European Union Javier Solana. They released a joint statement discussing their objectives for the region, which include support for Dayton and Bosnian sovereignty, as well as for state-building reforms that are necessary to transition to the EU:
As representatives of the United States and the European Union, we visited Sarajevo with a message of support and concern. We support Bosnia and Herzegovina, a single state with two entities. We support the Dayton Accords. We support the aspirations of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina to join European and Trans-Atlantic institutions. We also support the reforms that will be needed to realize this European future. And we support leaders who have the courage to reach across the ethnic divide to find compromise, build trust, foster stability and bring prosperity to Bosnia and Herzegovina.
From there, the Vice President traveled to Belgrade, Serbia where he met with President Boris Tadic. The Vice President expressed his desire for Serbia to be a positive leader in the Euro-Atlantic community:
I came to Serbia on behalf of the Obama-Biden administration with a clear, distinct message, Mr. President: The United States wants to, would like to, deepen our cooperation with Serbia to help solve the problems of the region, to help Serbia become a strong, successful democratic member of the Euro-Atlantic community. That's our objective.
Ever since the end of World War II, generations of Europeans and Americans have worked very hard to build a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace. Southeast Europe remains the missing piece, and Serbia is central to Southeast Europe's future. Simply put, the region cannot fully succeed without Serbia playing the constructive and leading role
On Thursday, the Vice President traveled to Pristina, Kosovo, where he met with officials and addressed the Assembly of Kosovo. He underscored the United States’ commitment to a unified, multiethnic, independent Kosovo. His visit was the first by a senior American official since Kosovo declared its independence last year. He later traveled to Camp Bondsteel where he talked with U.S. troops, applauding their efforts:
Ladies and gentlemen, for just as I’ve seen other bases around the world and made dozens of trips into what we call war zones around the world, what I see reaffirms my absolute belief and knowledge you are the most powerful, you are the most disciplined, you are the best-trained warriors America has ever produced. And that is literally true. You’re the most visible, most vital symbol of our sense of justice and compassion that could possibly be demonstrated to the rest of the world, along with your colleagues in the multinational force. You’re the embodiment of our deep-seated ethic of selflessness and sacrifice.
After his tour of the Balkans, the Vice President traveled to Beirut, his first trip to the Middle East as Vice President and the first trip by any American Vice President to Lebanon since 1983. In his address to President Sleiman, he reinforced the United States’ support for an independent and sovereign Lebanon:
I also want to convey to you that the Obama-Biden administration is committed to comprehensive peace in the region that benefits all people, including the Lebanese. That's why within the first 50 days of our administration we made it clear that we were fully, totally committed and will stay committed to pursuing a lasting peace.
Lebanon has suffered terribly from war. We have a real opportunity now, Mr. President, in my view, for peace. So I urge those who would think about standing with the spoilers of peace not to miss this opportunity to walk away from the spoilers.
Mr. President, you know it and I know it: Lebanon has immeasurable potential. And as I said to you and your colleagues earlier, I can't envision peace in the Middle East without a stable, strong Lebanon. The potential for a vibrant democracy, the potential to be a model for other Middle Eastern nations moving toward freedom and reform is, I think, within your grasp.
The Vice President closed his trip with an announcement of a comprehensive U.S. military assistance effort in Lebanon, stating that the United States is committed to supporting the Lebanese Armed Forces:
I'm also here to assure you that every member of the Lebanese army -- every member of the Lebanese army -- that the United States of America considers itself a partner in your effort to defend your sovereignty -- the sovereignty of the Lebanese state and the security of all the people of Lebanon. That's why, since 2005, the United States has committed more than a half a billion dollars to provide training and equipment, and why we've sat with you and Secretary Gates has talked about a multi-year plan.
And that's why we continue to support you. As I said to the President today, a free and democratic Lebanon hinges on the strength of your national institutions. The Lebanese Armed Forces are as vital a national institution as any other in this country, arguably more vital. We know how much the Lebanese people look to you to protect their interests.