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Kyle Scott, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia

Serbia is the Master of Its European Future

We fully support Serbia in finding its rightful place among the European community of nations. The path toward achieving this goal is closely connected to political and economic reforms, including a compromise agreement with Kosovo, increased efficiency by the legal system, a serious fight against corruption, and protection for independent media

During his mandate as U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, H.E. Kyle Scott supported many initiatives which fortified bilateral relations between the U.S. and Serbia in terms of political, economic, and cultural cooperation. Some of them like the Vi ste svet ads gained the heartfelt support from all sides, from the general public to politicians, and some others proved to be more complex. Yet, there was one fine line which connected all of these moments and that is the shared commitment of the U.S. and Serbian governments to work toward an EU future for Serbia.

Your Excellency, you find yourself reaching the end of your time in Serbia. What would you single out as some of the most important moments during the past four years?

– There is not enough space in your magazine for me to recount even a fraction of the highlights of serving in Serbia as the United States Ambassador. I am proud of Serbia’s growing economy, which I believe has been aided by American efforts to help enhance government efficiency and the business climate here.

One particularly important achievement for me has been to shed new light on the proud history of Serbian-American relations, from the contributions of Serbian-Americans, like Tesla and Pupin, to Americans who helped Serbia during World War I to the ordinary Serbs who saved the lives of more than 500 American and Allied pilots during World War II. Serbian-Americans helped NASA put a man on the moon.

These stories were being forgotten and overshadowed by the 1990s, but I believe we helped remind Serbia of the depth and breadth of our friendship. Seeing Serbs gain a renewed respect for this relationship after watching our Vi ste svet ads, or the warm welcome that was shown to David Vuich, the last surviving member of the Serbian Seven, from the Apollo 11 mission, was heart-warming. The United States respects the contributions of Serbs and believes in the potential of this nation. I hope I helped contribute to this understanding.

Recently, while speaking about your experiences, you talked about the idea of “restraint towards America.” Who were you referring to with that statement – the media, politicians or just part of the so-called Twitter community that you’ve said send you insults?

– Unfortunately, it’s true that there are elements of the media and political establishment here that continue to push false narratives about the United States. The tabloids in particular trade in hatred, knowing that fake headlines about impending wars and foreign threats might help them sell newspapers, which I guess they need to do to pay for the seemingly endless stream of libel judgments against them in Serbian courts.

We’ve invested more than any other bilateral donor in recent years in helping Serbia achieve its goal of advancing closer to its rightful place among the European community of nations

I don’t spend much time reading comments from my Twitter trolls. What matters to me is the thousands of people in Serbia who have the opportunity to receive and read our positions on social media. We’re routinely seeing tweets reaching tens of thousands of people. They don’t need to agree with us; we just hope they listen and try to understand us, just like we listen to and try to understand Serbia. The Serbs I know are hospitable, civil people, even when we disagree.

When it comes to relations between our two countries, have you attempted to develop an understanding for the reservations that exist even within more moderate circles in Serbia, where it is stressed that there hasn’t been a lot in U.S. policy that’s been friendly towards Serbia in the last few decades? The two countries continue to mark the anniversary of the World War II operation to rescue U.S. pilots in Serbia as the pinnacle of our friendship. What does that tell you?

– The United States, along with the vast majority of Europe and Serbia’s neighbours, clearly disagreed with Slobodan Milosevic. I do not think it’s at all correct, however, to say that U.S. policy has not been friendly towards Serbia in the last few decades. We’ve invested more than any other bilateral donor in recent years in helping Serbia achieve its goal of advancing closer to its rightful place among the European community of nations. European integration for Serbia is our priority, as it is the priority of the Serbian government.

Our militaries have conducted more than 300 cooperative events since 2016 alone to help address joint security threats. Unfortunately, many Serbs don’t hear about these success stories, because they do not fit the prevailing narrative in many of the tabloids that America is bad.

Regarding the Halyard Mission in World War II, I am thrilled that this story of heroism is being told to wider audiences.

Returning to the present, could you tell us how you see the role of new U.S. special envoy to the region Matthew Palmer, a person who local media have already compared to Richard Holbrooke?

– Matt Palmer’s appointment is a clear and important signal that America is serious about wanting to help Serbia and Kosovo reach the sort of agreement that is mutually beneficial, durable, and will contribute to stability throughout this region.

Ultimately, success depends on the courage and wisdom of leaders here and in Pristina. It is also important to remember that Mr Palmer is the Special Representative for the entire Western Balkans.

More than 20,000 Serbs now collect paychecks from American businesses. That’s 3,000 jobs added by American companies just in the time I’ve been Ambassador

His appointment demonstrates our commitment to the entire region. We believe that Serbia and all the countries of the region will only flourish when they can find a way to listen to each other, show true mutual respect for each other, and cooperate for everyone’s mutual benefit.

The media has speculated that we could soon see a repeat of the scenario by which the U.S. takes over the facilitating/mediating of the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue from the EU, with a view to reaching a solution prior to the 2020 U.S. election. Does that correspond with the intentions of the current U.S. administration?

– This is Europe, and we fully expect that the European Union will continue to take a leading role in supporting Belgrade and Pristina. We want to support them, and encourage them to press ahead. We have no deadlines, but I think an agreement is long overdue.

During a recent visit to Serbia, U.S. Senators Johnson and Murphy said that both the Serbia and Kosovo sides must relinquish something. What, in your opinion, should Serbia accept as a loss, and what should Kosovo give up?

– That is not for me to define. Only Serbs and Kosovars can negotiate the settlement. We simply want to encourage both sides not to lose this opportunity for lasting peace. What we seek right now is for leaders to return to the dialogue process. For a start, let me repeat my hope that Kosovo will remove tariffs on goods from Serbia and that Serbia will suspend its derecognition campaign.

How would you assess economic cooperation between the U.S. and Serbia, which seems to remain in the shadows compared to complex political relations?

– The numbers don’t lie: more than 20,000 Serbs now collect paychecks from American businesses. That’s 3,000 jobs added by American companies just in the time I’ve been Ambassador. More than $4 billion of American investment has now come to Serbia. American companies like NCR, Nutanix, Ball Packaging, and Ametek, to name just a few, are expanding and planning to hire more workers here.

A compromise agreement on Kosovo will be a huge step forward in terms of opening Serbia’s door to additional investment from the world’s largest economy. Even though Serbia has an excellent workforce and a premium geographic location, businesses do not like uncertainty or political instability.

You recently announced that American engineering company Bechtel would build the so-called Moravian Corridor. What can you say about that engagement of a U.S. company in the area of infrastructure in Serbia, where developers from China, Azerbaijan, Russia and the European Union are already present?

– Successful completion of the Morava Corridor will require extremely complicated engineering and technical expertise, and I have faith that the largest construction company in the United States is up to the task. The project is more than just laying down concrete for a highway – Bechtel has the capacity and experience to execute this smart infrastructure project, which also includes extensive flood control work, elevating the entire roadway by a meter, an internet and telecommunications corridor, and economic development and planning work with local municipalities.

AmCham is doing an excellent job of helping to develop the business environment in Serbia. It’s clear to me that small and medium enterprises will be the motor of growth here, as they are in the United States

You made an unusual gesture in Serbia by publishing several promotional television videos honouring Serbia’s contribution to science and the arts. How would you rate the effects of this project?

– Measuring the impact of this message is not easy, especially in the short term. The video clips have been viewed more than 10 million times on YouTube and countless more times on TV screens in Serbia. I have heard many positive comments, including from government officials, about the message.

How can events like the annual conference of AmChams in Europe, to be held in Belgrade this October, contribute to raising interest in investing in Serbia among American companies and the sharing of knowledge between AmCham chambers throughout Europe and the business community in Serbia?

– AmCham is doing an excellent job of helping to develop the business environment in Serbia. It’s clear to me that small and medium enterprises will be the motor of growth here, as they are in the United States. To truly unlock this potential—and the 6 per cent annual economic growth that Serbia needs to reach EU living standards, slow the brain drain, and achieve the prosperity deserved by its citizens—will require political and economic reforms, including a compromise agreement with Kosovo, increased efficiency by the legal system, a serious fight against corruption, and protection for independent media. These are all connected and will set the stage for Serbia to reach its potential. I believe that AmCham and the conference of their European chapters are extremely important voices that can help bring these important reforms.

PRIORITY

European integration for Serbia is our priority, as it is the priority of the Serbian government

HOPE

I hope that Kosovo will remove tariffs on goods from Serbia and that Serbia will suspend its derecognition campaign

DIALOGUE

We believe that Serbia and all the countries of the region will only flourish when they can find a way to listen to each other

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