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H.E. Christopher R. HILL, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia

Progress Everywhere

Everywhere I look in our bilateral relationship, I see progress…Serbia is taking a leading role in promoting regional economic integration as well, as the region makes its case for EU membership, which is a priority for the United States ~ Christopher Hill

In this year that will be marked by the U.S. presidential election, America’s ambassador to Serbia assures us that, regardless of the outcome, we shouldn’t expect a change in Washington’s attitude towards Serbia.

Your Excellency, as we are in the year of the American presidential election, one frequent question is whether a change in administration could impact U.S. policy in the region?

— U.S. policy is ultimately rooted in U.S. national interests. Many things change from administration to administration, but our core national interests endure. Among those are a Balkan region that is stable, prosperous and secure, and part of a Europe that is, as President George H. W. Bush put it, “whole, free, and at peace.” Our policies for the region are aimed at that goal, and I don’t expect that to change, no matter the outcome in November.

Speaking in a recent interview, you agreed with the assessment that bilateral relations between the U.S. and Serbia are on an upward trajectory. In which areas is this progress most evident?

— Everywhere I look in our bilateral relationship, I see progress. Our security cooperation continues to improve, and U.S. and Serbian forces now serve alongside one another in peacekeeping missions around the world. We’ve done a lot with Serbia, as with our other European partners, to help Ukraine cope with Russian aggression, and we’ve seen Serbia commit to continue that support even after this horrible war ends and Ukraine finally begins to rebuild.

Serbia’s youth are extremely talented and very savvy. They know that Serbia’s future is in the West, and that the United States is a partner for Serbia’s continued development

More and more U.S. companies are expressing an interest in investing in Serbia, in areas like IT services and green energy. Serbia is taking a leading role in promoting regional economic integration as well, as the region makes its case for EU membership, which is a priority for the United States. We’d all like to see more progress on the normalization of relations with Kosovo, but the lack of progress in the Dialogue is not due to the lack of a constructive approach on Serbia’s part.

Are you concerned by the results of surveys on the attitudes of Serbian citizens, especially the youth, which suggest that 40% do not consider the U.S. a friendly country (ref. Annual Survey conducted by the Institute for European Affairs)?

— Survey responses are one thing, but I think young people’s actions speak louder than words. When they want to study abroad, young people in Serbia think of American universities first. When they apply for a job, they’re excited to work for American companies. When they watch movies or listen to music, it’s American pop culture that they’re drawn to. Serbia’s youth are extremely talented and very savvy. They know that Serbia’s future is in the West, and that the United States is a partner for Serbia’s continued development.

You recently spoke about the aligning of the positions of Belgrade and Washington with regard to the war in Ukraine. The Serbian government maintains that imposing sanctions on Russia is not in the national interest. On what grounds do the U.S. and Serbian policies converge?

— Sanctions are one part of the unified Euro-Atlantic response to Russia’s horrific aggression against Ukraine. They are an important part, but there is so much more to it. Serbia has shown tremendous support to the Ukrainian people, including through its votes in the UN and the provision of humanitarian assistance, as they fight back against Russian aggression and stand up for democratic values and the right to determine their own future.

We’ve recently seen Serbia and Ukraine deepening their diplomatic relationship as well, and I know President Vučić and President Zelensky have a relationship built on mutual respect. It’s important to remember that Serbia has consistently said that it will harmonize its foreign policies with the common policy of the EU, which includes sanctions. To focus narrowly on the sanctions question, however, is to miss the forest for the trees. When it comes to Ukraine, Serbia is unquestionably on the right side.

You recently puzzled the public in Serbia by stating that you believe recognition of Kosovo’s independence will not be a condition for Serbia’s EU accession, but rather the normalization of relations will be sought. At the same time, your colleague in Pristina, Ambassador Hovenier, stated that mutual recognition is expected at the end of the normalization process. Whom should we believe?

— I think if you look closely at our statements, you’ll see that there is no contradiction between them. Our immediate focus is on support for the EU-facilitated Dialogue, which aims at normalization. It’s long been the policy of the United States that we want to see a future where all the countries of the Western Balkans recognize each other and live side by side in peace and prosperity, and as members of the European Union. None of this is new, but the media like to look for controversy. If you look closely at U.S. policy, however, you’ll find it’s been consistent on these questions for years.

It has been noted that your assessment of the recent All-Serb Assembly was milder than that of your colleague from Sarajevo, who dubbed the event, organized by the President and Government of Serbia, “an attack on the Dayton Agreement”. Do you differ in your assessments or are you more diplomatic in your expressions?

— Again, I think if you look carefully at all our public statements, there are no contradictions. No one has criticized the event itself as an attack on Dayton.

In an interview with weekly news magazine NIN, you said that you would never ask people in Serbia to forget the NATO bombing, but that “for the sake of our children and our children’s children, we really need to try to spend more time looking forward than looking back.” Could this principle have been applied when deciding that the U.S. “proudly sponsors the Resolution on the Genocide in Srebrenica”?

— As I’ve said in many different contexts, as a diplomat, I look to the future and what we can do to solve the problems and challenges still ahead of us. Looking to the past is something I try to leave to lawyers and historians. Your question is a hypothetical one—could things have been different?

We’d all like to see more progress on the normalization of relations with Kosovo, but the lack of progress in the Dialogue is not due to the lack of a constructive approach on Serbia’s part

Here too I’ll stick to the diplomat’s perspective and leave alternative history to the novelists. I’ll continue to focus on what’s ahead.

The flagship of American-Serbian economic relations is the IT sector. You have also spoken on several occasions about the U.S. interest in participating in the reforms of the energy sector. What does this exactly mean? Which projects are particularly attractive?

— The need to create alternatives to an energy system built on burning dirty fossil fuels is the critical challenge of our time. Given its history of technical innovation and the talent of its people, Serbia is poised to ensure that the world’s green energy transformation benefits Serbian citizens not just through cleaner air and a healthier environment, but also through the provision of dependable, high-paying jobs that stay in Serbia and build wealth here, not somewhere else. If doing all that also helps free Serbia from its dependence on Russian oil and gas, that’s an added benefit. It is for all those reasons that we’re always open to expanding our cooperation with Serbia, as the country continues to grow and develop its green tech and renewable energy sectors.

INTEREST

More and more U.S. companies are expressing an interest in investing in Serbia, in areas like IT services and green energy

RECOGNITION

It’s long been the policy of the US that we want to see a future where all the countries of the Western Balkans recognize each other

SANCTIONS

It’s important to remember that Serbia has consistently said that it will harmonize its foreign policies with the EU, which includes sanctions