Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at the Conclusion of a Bilateral meeting With President Hashim Thaci of Kosovo
The Assembly Building
Pristina, the Republic of Kosovo
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much, Mr. President. I’ve been to Kosovo many times. Looking at Mr. Ruganvic’s (ph) photograph or painting as I came down the stairs. I’ve met with him many times, as well. It goes back a long way.
And I always enjoy coming. People back home ask me why I keep coming to Kosovo. It’s because every time I come, particularly when I speak to you, Mr. President, I go back reinvigorated. I go back hopeful. I go back with the unyielding belief that years, decades, centuries of enmity and hostility can be overcome. You and I were in a long conversation upstairs. And President Obama always kids me because I keep saying, all politics is personal, particularly in international relations. And you essentially said the same thing. It takes personalities who are willing to fight very hard for what they know is in the interest of their country, even sometimes when it’s not in their own political interest. And that always gives me hope. It gives me hope.
And I will leave here today when I leave this evening with a renewed sense of hope and quite frankly feeling vindicated that I was smart enough to be captivated by all of you years ago and be among the first to argue for Kosovo’s independence. You're making me a hero. (Laughter.)
But on a very serious note, this is a particularly meaningful visit for my family and me -- including my wife, Jill; my son Hunter, the love of my life; my two grandchildren, and Beau Biden’s wife, Hallie, and his two children.
I wanted them to be here. I wanted them to see Kosovo. I wanted them to taste it. I wanted them to feel it. And when my Beau, who was the attorney general of my state and a fine man, and a decorated war veteran coming back from a year in Iraq, he volunteered back early on to come to Kosovo in the middle of the war. The war was just ending. And he came not as a soldier. He came as a member of the United States Department of Justice to help, at the request of some, to advance justice and the rule of law here in Kosovo back in 2001.
And he loved it here. He grew to love the people. I mean this sincerely. He had an overwhelming sense of affection. And it was his strong belief from having been here in the depths of very difficult times that made me confident that calling for the independence of this great country was the right thing to do. Sometimes it’s better to listen to your sons than your sons to listen to you.
My father used to have an expression, Mr. Prime Minister -- I remember you as Prime Minister as well -- Mr. President, and that was he said, it’s a lucky parent who turns and looks at his child and realizes his child turned out better than he was.
I was, indeed, a successful parent because Beau was a better man than I am, and he sensed right away how important Kosovo should, could, and will be in the region.
So later this afternoon, as a consequence of the generosity of your parliament, you, and the Prime Minister, and the people of Kosovo, I will, with my family, be attending a ceremony to name a portion of the road in front of Camp Bondsteel after my Beau.
And I want to thank you, Mr. President, and I want to thank the Prime Minister Mustafa, and all the people of Kosovo
for the friendship that you have shown me personally, and to the
Biden family generally.
And I don't -- this is not hyperbole to suggest we genuinely, genuinely, genuinely appreciate it.
You know, Mr. President, we've known each other for a long time. And I’m here for an even much more important reason than merely to honor my son and to thank you for honoring him.
Let me begin by congratulating you on your election to President. And I know from my experience and our many, many hours of discussions how deeply you care about Kosovo and how committed you are to its future as a free, open, independent, and full integrated European nation.
There’s an expression I use in my country when young women or men will come to me and ask me if they're going to run for office. They say, what’s the most important thing I have to know? And I tell them -- and I mean this sincerely -- I tell them the same thing for the last 44 years, have you figured out what it’s worth losing over? Have you figured out what is essentially more important than you as to the reason why you're doing what you're doing?
You figured it out. You put your country first, and it shows. And the rest of the world is following your leadership.
And I’m here today to affirm the United States is going to continue to stand with the people of Kosovo on your journey to become a prosperous and peaceful multi-ethnic democracy; and to join the Euro-Atlantic and international community.
And by the way, I don't say that as the American saying we're coming here to help -- that's not what this is about. This is overwhelmingly -- your success is overwhelmingly in the interest of my country. Overwhelmingly. For if you succeed, the region will succeed -- a region of Europe that has never been fully, thoroughly integrated into Europe.
And our vision and the vision of most European leaders and the world is for Europe whole, free, and united. And it matters a lot to the United States of America.
So although we're deeply engaged and we’ll do all we can to help, we're not doing you a favor. It’s overwhelmingly in our interest you succeed.
I was last here in 2009. I remember at the time right after we got elected, I came here. And they said, well, why is this among your first visits? Why is it -- you've just been elected. You've just been sworn in. Why Kosovo?
Well, it was just one year after you had gained your independence. And it was a time in which we, the President and I and our administration, wanted to demonstrate that our commitment to is real. It’s not passing. It’s not something that is ephemeral. It’s real. Again, because it’s in our interest.
Now, seven years later, I’m proud to return to see the tremendous progress that Kosovo has made. You’ve gained greater global recognition. Every time you've come to my office, you've said, will you call the following Presidents, Joe? He gives me a list when he comes as to what countries that hadn’t -- you know I’m not kidding. But now -- not because of me or the United States -- but because of what you've done, you're in a position where the world is recognizing you. You've gained greater global recognition, but you've also -- including competing under your own flag -- and Majlinda, you should meet this young woman. She has to be strong to hold up that gold medal. I lifted it. I had my grandchildren lift it. It must weigh I don't know what. And fortunately, my young granddaughter, who is 12, said, Pop, what did she win it in? I said, judo. She said, like fighting? I said, like judo, yes. (Laughter.) She said, boy, she must be strong. But it was wonderful for you to have her at the airport to meet us. You made me a hero with my grandchildren.
And as I said in my last visit, your democracy and independence are a force for regional stability. There’s no going back. If you nail down this independence and capacity to govern the way you're on your to doing, this will have an impact ripple throughout the region. It’s not just about Kosovo. And your firm commitment, as you stood here today, in spite of a strong minority -- a minority view that sometimes is somewhat over the top in not wanting you to sign the agreement you negotiated with Montenegro -- as an example of your leadership, standing here before your countrymen and the whole world and saying, this is important. It is a fair agreement. It is a fair agreement. It is a fair agreement. And your commitment to see it come to fruition will have a very positive impact in the region.
You’ve had to make some very difficult decisions and push necessary reforms -- even when they weren’t popular. That's something President Obama and I know a little bit about, coming into office as you're losing 800,000 jobs a month is not a usual welcoming environment to come in. But those decisions over the period of time have proven to be correct for our economy. None of the easy decisions are usually consequential. But the difficult decisions you've made that are unpopular are beginning to bear fruit.
I know that for many, the scars of war and the pain of loss are still very raw. I was in and out of this region of the world in middle of the wars 28 times. I witnessed it. I saw it. I was in shelters. I was in bombed-out buildings. I was visiting newspapers that were two stories underground. I was visiting hospitals. I saw with my own eyes only a portion of the suffering and the carnage that took place.
But, although these scars are still raw, the only way for Kosovo to move forward is to assure a united future and to advance reconciliation -- to ensure the rights of every citizen is protected.
Mr. President, I commend you for your participation in the wreath-laying at Staro Gracko -- I’m mispronouncing it, and I apologize -- last month, for honoring Kosovo-Serb victims of the violence of 1999. And for your words yesterday, commemorating the children who were killed in 2003.
I know these were controversial decisions in some quarters, but they are very important testimony to the progress that Kosovo is making under you and the leadership of your nation.
Today, with both the President and the Prime Minister, we talked about the necessary steps that lie ahead for Kosovo, and how the United States may be able to be of continued support and help in that march toward progress.
And it starts with pursuing closer cooperation and peaceful negotiations with your neighbor -- even your former enemies. President Thaci and Prime Minister Mustafa have shown great commitment to advancing the EU-facilitated Brussels Dialogue with Serbia in order to move toward normalization of relations between Pristina and Belgrade; including not only the demarcation line, which is nothing to do with Brussels, but is kind of change that has to occur with your neighbors, in terms of the Brussels dialogue of moving forward to establish an Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities.
It will be difficult, but it is necessary and important, urgent work. And I had the same conversation, as I pointed out to you, Mr. President, with Prime Minister Vucic yesterday. We talked about it at length. And he understands, as he expressed to me, the need to move forward, as well. Both of you face headwinds in your country on some of this, but you both understand what has to be done.
Both sides have a responsibility to follow through on the commitments you made in Brussels and to look for new areas to keep the dialogue moving forward once that's done. It can't be the end. It should be the beginning. This is critical for advancing Kosovo and Serbia’s full integration into Europe. Without it, it will not likely happen.
And as you continue this work, the United States is going to continue to stand by your side, Mr. President, because we believe in Kosovo. Since your independence, the United States has provided almost $2 billion of help, and there is more help available with continued change. That $2 billion is used to promote governance and democracy, advance peace and security initiatives, implement social development programs, spur economic growth, and provide humanitarian relief.
But ultimately, we hope to welcome a strong, democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo as a full member of the European family. Because the use of violence and intimidation to disrupt lawful democratic processes, some of which you've seen here, are completely, thoroughly, totally unacceptable.
Another key issue President Thaci and the Prime Minister and I discussed today was need for greater economic growth and prosperity across Kosovo. If you look at history, folks, no fledgling democracy has been able to sustain itself without economic prosperity, without economic growth. And economic growth cannot be sustained in the absence of the rule of law. It’s not because the United States says that or because the U.N. -- it’s because -- there’s sort of new laws of physics for the economy. People will only invest where there is transparency. Companies will invest only where they know there is a rule of law. They’ll only invest where they know what they negotiated can be litigated and upheld within those courts of law; will only invest where they don't have to engage in bribery and coercion. That is the new norm for our global economy.
And in order for you to take advantage of the incredible talent you have here interests his country, there is a need to continue, which you have been pushing, to deal with corruption and organized crime.
That’s why it’s absolutely critical that the government continue fight impunity by closing loopholes in the criminal code; professionalize public appointments and take zero-tolerance approach to corruption; including preventing indicted and convicted officials from continuing in their positions; and increase the democratic accountability of the government.
Corruption is a cancer that eats at the fabric of every society where it exists. And that's not hyperbole. I spend my time on behalf of the President going around the world trying to be of some value added. We not -- we always don't make it. But every country that is riven with corruption as a consequence of the last government that has -- that they've been able to overthrow or move away from is struggling. They're struggling economically. Corruption is a cancer. And unless it’s dealt with, the likelihood of bringing down the unemployment rate, the likelihood of raising the standard of living, the likelihood of Kosovo meeting its potential is not likely.
And so ultimately we hope to welcome a strong, as I said, democratic, multi-ethnic Kosovo as a full member of the European family, free of corruption. But the use of violence, as I said, and intimidation is something that is not tolerable in any modern democracy.
Corruption drains the economic resources away from the people and drives away business and investment. It weakens a nation’s ability to defend itself. It leaves it vulnerable to manipulation from outside. In short, it jeopardizes everything Kosovo hopes to achieve, hopes to achieve, hopes to become, hopes for its future. The rule of law has to apply equally to everyone. The justice system has to be equitable, and it has to be transparent.
That’s why in the first instance in 2001, my son Beau came here to work toward that kind of system, long before Kosovo achieved independence. And that’s what we encouraged -- we're encouraged by the people like you who believe that we have to continue to move in this direction so a future for themselves and their families can be achieved here in Kosovo -- and people stop leaving and start coming back, instead of leaving.
Kosovo is not alone. You have friends ready to help all over the world -- and no greater friend than the United States of America. We want to help you transform your economy, reduce poverty, and promote a more prosperous future for the people of Kosovo and the children of Kosovo.
That’s why, last December, the Millennium Challenge Corporation selected Kosovo to create a new development assistance compact between our nations. That could potentially provide hundreds of millions of dollars -- direct dollars to Kosovo -- to help foster a better environment for business growth and to draw outside investment, which will create urgently needed jobs.
We want to help strengthen your energy security, as well. That’s why we support the construction of the new Kosovo C power plant, which will provide Kosovo with reliable power and unlock economic growth.
We want to continue cooperating to advance our shared security, and that's why you made reference it a little bit earlier, that's why, Mr. President, we want to compliment as President and the Prime Minister on the important work that you've done to combat the flow of foreign fighters. You have done it. I want the world to listen. They have done it. We know they have done it. They have been highly, highly successful. And it matters.
It took incredible fortitude and resilience over many years for the people of Kosovo to gain their independence. But that was only the first step. Much of the hard work still lies ahead. You're going to continue to need to draw on your courage, Mr. President, and determination to meet these challenges. All of your countrymen are going to have to do that.
The work of democracy is never done. We know -- 240 years after our independence, the United States of America still works daily toward what we call “a more perfect union.” And we are not there yet. We are still dealing with our own problems internally.
So as you continue to make progress on your democratic path, know the United States is going to continue to be champion for the people of Kosovo. And we will keep advocating around the world in every international organization for a strong and independent Kosovo that is an integral part of a Europe whole, free and at peace.
And with your leadership and the leadership of the Prime Minister and all of your colleagues, I am absolutely confident this is a path you can walk. This is a path you can walk down. This is an objective you can achieve. And when you do fully achieve it, Mr. President, every single country in the region will be better for it.
So thank you for all your hard work and your courage in moving forward.