Remarks by Vice President Joe Biden at the Conclusion of a Bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Vucic of Serbia
Palace of Serbia
Belgrade, the Republic of Serbia
VICE PRESIDENT BIDEN: Thank you very much, Mr. Prime Minister, (inaudible).
I’ll start again. Thank you, very much Mr. Prime Minister. And I told the Prime Minister as he greeted me at the limousine for that beautiful formal welcome, as they were playing the national anthems of both our countries, we stood on that platform. As we walked away, I said, my expectation is your water polo team will be standing on a similar platform very soon. And I’m glad to hear other of your countrymen are standing on that platform.
As you know, we in the United States -- we don't take it very seriously. We don't pay much attention to gold medals. I’m only kidding, obviously. It’s a great scene to watch. It makes you think as a leader who has been involved in national security issues and foreign policy for 40 years, imagine if we could settle all our differences the way they're settled at the Olympics and with the winners and losers embracing.
But, Mr. Prime Minister, you're going a long way to make your country a winner all the way around. This is not the first time we've met. Presumptuous of me to say this, I think we've become friends. I always enjoy it when you're able to be in the United States.
And I want to thank you for the welcome you’ve showed me at the airport. You've made me seem like a very important grandfather to my 13-year-old granddaughter as she came down the stairs. And so I want to thank you for that.
My visit today is much too short, but I believe we have accomplished a great deal. The Prime Minister and I have gotten to know each other over the past several years, and I mean this sincerely, I -- along with President Obama -- respect the leadership you’ve shown in some very tough challenging moments, Mr. Prime Minister, and your positive vision for the future of Croatia [sic].
I’ll say what I said privately with your colleagues, I’ll say it again, I have for the last three decades viewed Croatia and all the rest of our neighbors -- Kosovo, Montenegro, everyone in the neighborhood -- as an essential part of what I think is needed for a Europe that is whole and free and united for the first time. And Serbia is the keystone to that.
If Serbia does well economically and politically, the entire region does well and will do well. And I’ve not worked on issues in this region for the -- at least the last four decades. My first visit was back in 1997 [sic], before the breakup of Yugoslavia. I was recounting one of the most fascinating meetings I’ve ever had in my life with President Tito in Split at his residence there with a gentleman named Averill Harriman, an esteemed American diplomat. And I felt like I was reliving specific incidents in World War II. They were both hard of hearing. We were sitting a little dining room table, and they were hollering at each other so they could hear one another. And to hear them talk about Franklin and Joe Stalin and Franklin Roosevelt, it was like something -- like history coming alive. That was my first visit. And I’ve been here a number of times since.
And I believe this -- today, this year, this period is a moment of genuine opportunity for Serbia.
I witnessed firsthand the incredible progress Serbia has made in a relatively short period of time. And as I said when I visited back in 2009, the United States is committed to supporting the people of Serbia as you continue on your journey.
We don't do that out of nobility. We do that because it’s overwhelmingly in the self-interest of the United States of America for the people of Serbia to be able to grow and prosper. I mean that sincerely. I mean that sincerely.
And to support a strong, successful, democratic member of the Euro-Atlantic community is overwhelmingly -- not only in Serbia’s interest, as you've all stated, but is in the interest of Europe. And it’s an interest of a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace.
But, together, we are steadily working to change that circumstance into reality. Serbia’s success and leadership is critical to the overall success, as I’ve mentioned earlier, of Southeastern Europe.
There is a long history between our two countries, the United States and Serbia. Not all of it good. Some of it painful. But I’m proud that the United States and Serbia
have started a new chapter in our relationship, grounded on the shared ideas of mutual respect.
And today, Mr. Prime Minister, you and I discussed how to continue to deepen that partnership between our nations.
First, we discussed the importance of moving forward with an EU-facilitated Brussels Dialogue, so that Serbia and Kosovo can continue making progress to normalize relations. It is difficult. There is nothing easy about it. There is a lot of history to overcome.
This is an issue that I’ll also be raising in Kosovo tomorrow with the leaders in Pristina. As I said, it’s not easy. It’s going to take a lot of hard work and political will to overcome the divisions. But I’m convinced that you and your team have already and will continue to do all you can to bring it to fruition.
If both sides remain committed to a future of peace and greater prosperity, it’s going to help both nations move closer to joining the European Union.
And I commended the Prime Minister for his efforts to continue advancing broader regional reconciliation, including attending what he did last year at the 20th anniversary of Srebrenica and signing a Joint Declaration with the Croatian President. It took a lot of courage. It took a lot of leadership. And it’s the measure of the man that I’ve come to know.
Secondly, we talked about the importance of Serbia continuing the path of reform. I’ve said often around the world there is sort of a new physics almost of economic growth. Not laid down by any country or any rules. But there are certain things that have to exist for countries to prosper. Because we're in a global economy, companies and individuals will not invest that there’s not transparency. They will not invest where there’s not rule of law. Not dictated by any country, not dictated by any international agreement. It’s just a reality. It’s just a reality.
And the fact of the matter is that there is a considerable interest around the world and in the United States for further foreign direct investment in Serbia. You have an extremely talented population, and you have an extremely, extremely hopeful future.
And so we expressed our commitment to implementing the reform agenda and the Serbian people -- that the Serbian people overwhelmingly voted for in April. And the United States stands ready to help Serbia navigate the difficult road ahead.
Already we’re seeing the impact of the economic reforms that the Serbian government has put in place. As the Prime Minister pointed out, the economy is growing and predicted to grow even faster. You’re drawing more international investment, including from my country. American companies are providing thousands of
quality jobs for Serbian workers. And our economic partnership is going to continue to grow as we keep strengthening our economic ties.
We’re also seeing the impact reforms -- the reforms that have impact on advancing the relationship between Serbia and the European Union. I congratulated Prime Minister Vucic on Serbia’s opening two more chapters in their accession negotiations with the EU. It’s a critical step that commits Serbia to ensure equal access to justice, strengthening an independent judiciary, and resolve war crime cases.
The rule of law is the backbone of all successful democracies. And very few democracies are successful without economic growth and economic prosperity. And a free media and a vibrant civil society are essential components for allowing people to feel invested in their governments and communities. Nations are stronger when they hear from many voices.
Civil society is a vital source of new ideas and energy that can help a country advance and make sure that governments are accountable to the people they serve. These voices must be protected and respected.
Serbian civil society can also be an important ally in rooting out corruption that hollows out institutions, weakens economies, siphons resources away from people. And that is literally an act of patriotism when that occurs.
Third, we talked about all the ways Serbia and the
United States can continue to advance our bilateral relationships. Yesterday, we reached a new extradition treaty. Not since 1902 has that occurred, the first upgrade of that agreement between our two countries in more than a century.
This treaty will enable much more effective cooperation between our countries on law enforcement. And what it says even more importantly is that the international norms that have become the standard for advanced countries are being shared between our countries.
The treaty, as I said, will enable more effective cooperation between our countries in law enforcement. We also addressed the growing security cooperation. Serbia and the United States already share a strong military-to-military relationship. Our troops train together. We stand together to combat terrorism of ISIL and other violent extremists. And we share a commitment to global peacekeeping.
And we continue expanding our ability to work together by helping Serbia modernize its military equipment, increasing Serbian military’s interoperability with NATO forces.
And, in an issue that's very close to my heart, I’m encouraged that -- although we didn't have a chance to discuss it in our meeting -- that we're exploring opportunities to increase our joint efforts for cancer research and prevention and management so that we can end the scourge of cancer as we know it as part of my government’s so-called Cancer Moonshot. We are really anxious to work with your scientists and your doctors, Mr. Prime Minister.
And finally, today, the United States and Serbia have I think reached another point in the maturation of our agreement. Even though we don't always agree on every issue, for many throughout the region, the scars of the wars in the 1990s are still raw. The memories of lost loved ones are still fresh. But I am hopeful that the steps we are taking to ensure future governments and future generations, I should say, grow up in the region marked by peace, stability, and greater prosperity.
And that's why, Mr. Prime Minister, I appreciate the comments you just made taking responsibility, to the extent it existed, for wrongs, hoping other countries will take equal responsibility for transgressions they may have engaged in, and offering your condolences of the lives lost --- Serbs and Kosovar Albanians alike. This is an important, important step forward to healing. It’s a difficult, difficult, difficult process.
And I would like to add my condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost during the wars of the ‘90s, including as a result of the NATO air campaign, in terms of responsibility.
And, Mr. Prime Minister, when I came to Belgrade in 2009, just a few months after President Obama and I took office, it was intended by the President and me to demonstrate to the people of Serbia America’s enduring commitment to the region and our desire for a strong relationship between our two nations.
That’s the same reason I’m here today. The only difference is we’ve even become closer friends since that first visit.
And over the past several years, Mr. Prime Minister, we’ve learned just how much we can achieve if we work together.
So thank you and your colleagues once more for your partnership and your commitment to advancing the relationship. And I am optimistic. There are an awful lot of problems facing the region. But I am optimistic -- maybe because I’ve been doing this such a long time. And I’ve seen the progress that's moved as quickly as it has.
As long as we have leaders like you in the region, as long as we are committed to making progress, I am absolutely, positively convinced our publics will support the efforts we're making. And things will continue to get better.
And thank you for your leadership, Mr. President.