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The White House

Remarks By The Vice President At The Palace Of Serbia

Office of the Vice President
For Immediate Release                      May 20, 2009
 The Palace of Serbia
Belgrade, Serbia
12:24 P.M. CEST
THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Mr. President -- President Tadic, thank you very much for your warm welcome and your comments.  And thank you for your strong, and I would add, forward-looking leadership in a time of significant challenge -- but also, as we spoke about, a time of real opportunity, genuine opportunity.
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 -- which you've begun, Mr. President.
President Tadic and I had a very productive -- and I apologize for the diplomatic speak, but it's real.  We had a very open and frank exchange.  We are old acquaintances.  We talked about renewing the relationship between the United States and Serbia, and about the critical role that Serbia is playing in this region, and I might add, beyond.
The President and I both acknowledge that in order to move our relationship forward, we need to find a way forward on the few issues on which we disagree, the few issues that divide us.
The first is Kosovo.  The President stated to me privately what he stated publicly.  But I believe we can agree to disagree, provided that we have reasonable expectations for one another.  The United States does not -- I emphasize, does not expect Serbia to recognize the independence of Kosovo.  It is not a pre-condition for our relationship or our support for Serbia becoming part of the European Union.
And we will continue, the United States will continue to insist that Serbs receive in Kosovo the strongest possible protection and guarantees of their safety and security and participation.  In return, we expect Serbia to cooperate with the European Union and other key international actors, and that we expect them to cooperate on Kosovo and to look for pragmatic solutions that will improve the lives of all the people of Kosovo -- Serbs and Albanians -- and avoid making them victims of political disagreement.
Similarly, we look to Serbia to help the United States and the EU promote its efforts to build a sovereign, democratic, multi-ethnic state with vibrant entities.  We look for that for Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We look to Serbia to build peaceful, positive relations with all its neighbors, which is why we very much, Mr. President, appreciate your recent efforts to reach out to Croatia, Montenegro, and Macedonia. 
And we expect Belgrade to make every possible effort to bring to justice those wanted by the International Criminal Tribunal at the Hague, which you are attempting to do, and to finally close this chapter in history.
Acknowledging our differences and finding constructive ways to work through them is one part of renewing this relationship.  Equally important though, Mr. President, is building on the many common views that we share, and working together in this region, in Europe, and beyond Europe.
In that regard, let me state two basic principles as clearly as I can.  First, the United States strongly supports Serbian membership in the European Union and expanding security cooperation between Serbia, the United States, and our allies.  We will use our influence, our energy, and our resources to promote Serbia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations.
Second, the United States will work to deepen the direct ties between our two countries.  Our military to military relationship is already strong, with more than a 140 joint projects since 2004 -- and we believe it can grow even stronger. 
Our economic partnership has tremendous possibilities.  As you mentioned, America is a leading investor in Serbia.  American companies are leading investors in Serbia.  And more and more, our major companies are investing directly here, helping to create good jobs.  Your success is our success.
Looking forward, we want to pursue more cultural and educational changes, so the new generations of Serbs and Americans can understand and appreciate each other's background, history, and values better than they have in the past and to demonstrate the growing respect that we share for one another.  This is a relationship based upon mutual respect.
Mr. President, as you know, the Obama-Biden administration just passed the hundred-day mark in our administration.  And we felt it at the front end of our administration -- we felt it very important early on in this administration to come to the Balkans, to come to Serbia to demonstrate our commitment to the region and our desire for a strong, new relationship between the United States and Serbia.
Mr. President, I'm pleased that we have taken this important first step today.  And I look forward, as we discussed in private, to the United States and Serbia taking many more steps together in the days to come.  And I thank you for your warm welcome.
12:35 P.M. CEST