Joint Press Availability With Serbian Prime Minister Vucic

Press Availability
Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Belgrade, Serbia
July 11, 2016

Prime Minister Vucic: Ladies and gentlemen, journalists, distinguished Ms. Nuland, distinguished Mr. Carpenter, Your Excellency. We meet with Ms. Nuland quite often and we always discuss several important topics. Today, I’d like to divide those topics into four parts. I also expect our conversation during our working dinner to be serious, responsible, and, above all, constructive. We talked primarily about our bilateral relations, both political and economic. On behalf of the Serbian Government, I expressed our wish to see an increase in the number of U.S. investors in Serbia. Hoping that those who have already invested feel good about their investment, we believe we can attract a considerable number of new U.S. investors. As for the rule of law, we’ll do our best to improve legal certainty and thus attract everyone who could contribute to Serbia’s economic growth by investing in the country. We also talked about our good political relations. We’re convinced the two countries’ political relations are good, very good, but they can be even better in the future.

As for number two, I’d like to say how thankful I am for U.S. support for Serbia’s EU path. The Government will be represented on the highest level in Brussels on the 18th as Chapters 23 and 24 are opened. With all due gratitude to our European partners, we owe the Chapter opening also to our American friends, who have always supported this course for Serbia.

Number three, something very important for us and of vital interest for all our citizens: namely, the Americans have shown great interest in regional stability and full political stability of the western Balkans. I said we’d invest a lot of energy, effort, and hard work to preserve peace and stability and to continue working with our friends and neighbors in the region.

We’re not afraid of tough reforms. This year, we expect our growth to amount not to 2.5 percent but to 2.8, which makes for very good growth on the regional level, and certainly on the European level, too, given it is 2.5 times higher than the average growth. Next year, we expect to see growth rise to as much as 4 percent, which would be the highest growth on a European level. But in order to achieve that, we have to preserve full regional political stability.

And, number four, I’d like to point out other bilateral and technical issues on which we cooperate, which we have been working on and largely resolving. I trust we’ll be able to continue this cooperative trend in the future, too. Serbia wants to continue building good relations with the U.S. Of course, we cannot speak for the U.S., they are a great power and it’s up to them to decide on that. We are a small country and not only do we want good relations with the U.S., but it also seems to me that, while safeguarding our own independence and sovereignty and taking care of our country’s future, we also never neglect to ensure we have as good as possible and always better relations with the U.S.

And, finally, I’d like to thank Ms. Nuland for her personal efforts. She has visited Serbia often and has always found time for us in the U.S., too. She has invested a lot of effort, energy, and hard work into enhancing U.S.-Serbian relations, so that we could boost our economic relations, too. I’m also grateful to His Excellency Ambassador Scott for the fact that we now have the first direct flight to New York City. Allow me to tell you that the bookings have so far reached as high as 84.1 percent of the plane’s capacity, while our initial assessment for it was some 56 to 66 percent. The flight is going much better than expected. We have many Albanian passengers too. We’ll make sure the figures get even better in the future and reach perhaps 90 percent.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thank you, Prime Minister Vucic. What a spectacularly beautiful evening here in Belgrade. We apologize for keeping you all waiting. I am delighted to be back. This is my fourth visit to Belgrade in the last three years. I am also delighted to be here with our interagency delegation, including my colleague Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Carpenter and General Hall. This is the third year in a row that in the month of July we’ve made an interagency tour of the Balkans, and of course we always stop in Belgrade. But it is particularly timely to stop here now after the elections with a new mandate -- congratulations Prime Minister -- to have a chance to talk about the route forward.

The United States is enormously proud to be Serbia’s partner as Serbia continues on its democratic transition, strengthening rule of law, strengthening media freedoms, strengthening the environment for investment, and we are particularly proud to support Serbia’s European choice. As the Prime Minister made clear, we also share an interest in strengthening trade and investment. American investment in Serbia is growing, but we want to see even more, and we are all working on that. We also very much appreciate the role that Serbia plays in the region, working on regional cooperation and reconciliation, and we are happy to be partners in that. We are strong supporters of the Kosovo-Serbian dialogue as well. So I look forward to continuing the conversation with the Prime Minister about all of these issues.

I was honored to see a broad cross section of the Parliament earlier today with our delegation, as well as the speaker, and to have a chance to talk to Mr. Dacic as well as some representatives who work on anti-corruption issues, which are of interest to all of us. And since the issue is now public, I want to take this opportunity to thank Serbia, to thank the Prime Minister on behalf of President Obama, for its decision to help relocate two former inhabitants at Guantanamo, joining more than a dozen European countries who are helping us on our desired path to close Guantanamo. We thank you for that European contribution. Every year, the contribution that Serbia makes to regional and global peace and security grows and we are very grateful for that as well. Thank you all for being with us.

Question: Madame Nuland, we understand that one of the goals of your visit is to encourage the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. But at the end of that road, does the United States expect Serbia to recognize Kosovo’s independence, considering your comment today in Pristina about the United States investing 20 years in Kosovo independence? Also, it is not a secret that Serbia and Russia have especially friendly relations; do you expect Serbia to distance itself from Russia more clearly?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: First of all, as I said, we are strong supporters of the dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo. We see this relationship growing stronger. It is a process between Belgrade and Pristina and we are eager to support that process and see it continue. With regard to Serbia and Russia, we understand that Serbia has long ties of culture, family, history, religion, with Russia. We don’t see any contradiction with Serbia having a good relationship with Russia and a good relationship with the United States. We would never ask friends or allies to choose. The United States itself has vibrant conversations with Russia, as you know. President Obama spoke to President Putin just last week. So, again, it’s important for all of us to work with Russia as we can, even as we are firm about Russia meeting its international obligations and following international rule of law.

Question: You said one of the topics was regional political stability. The Srebrenica anniversary is marked today, and August 5 is coming up when we’ll be marking the anniversary of Oluja. Did you discuss regional stability through this prism too?

Prime Minister Vucic: Now we’ve all been able to hear how a first-rate professional such as Victoria Nuland answers questions very precisely and in such a way that she always delivers the messages she wants to get across. That’s something I’ve been struggling to learn, but I’ll do my best to be as brief as possible.

We didn’t talk about either Srebrenica or Oluja this time. Both have been discussed many times both with Ms. Nuland and other American government representatives. The only thing I can say on behalf of Serbia: We’ve honored today the will of Bosnians who decided that no one from Serbia was welcome at the Srebrenica commemoration. We deeply regret that decision, but we’ll continue investing in efforts to improve our relations with Bosnians. The stability of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the entire region, as well as the stability of our relations with Bosnia and Herzegovina, are crucial for us. A difficult period is approaching – the anniversary of Oluja. Croatians celebrate it. Serbs mourn. They mourn those who were killed and those who were forced out of their homes. That has not changed and will not change in the decades to follow. But what can be changed is our attitude toward the future. That’s why I think the discussions we’ve had with President Grabar-Kitarovic and her advisors have been tremendously important, both for the Serbian community in Croatia and for the Croatian minority in Serbia. I trust these talks will continue, as they are very important for the economic growth of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In any case, we will certainly invest a lot in this.

I’d like to offer thanks for Secretary of State Kerry’s letter, but also for President Obama’s message in relation to our helping to relocate two Guantanamo inmates. I think it’s very normal; Germany has done the same, and so have many other countries in the region. It’s only normal Serbia should do the same. We act as partners in many other operations worldwide, from Cyprus, Lebanon, Central African Republic, etc. Serbia will continue in the capacity of a partner when it comes to keeping peace in the world. I believe it speaks well of our country and represents a good sign for future joint engagements.

Question: [Inaudible]

Prime Minister Vucic: Let me answer this way: This has nothing to do with Ms. Nuland’s visit and I’ll talk about this at length tomorrow. Namely, we’ve prepared a very serious plan against all those who intend to commit violence against women, let alone violence against children. Both of these will be subjects of new legal approaches and new legislation that will be passed. We’ll come down hard on all bullies and murderers. All I can say is I would never want to be in their shoes. More details follow tomorrow.