BELGRADE – Deputy Assistant Secretary at the U.S. State Department Matthew Palmer stated in his address to the participants of the Belgrade Security Forum that United States are pushing for a strong, prosperous region integrated in the Western institution. He also pointed out that all Western Balkan countries are facing similar challenges, first and foremost the rule of law, corruption and media freedom.
“A stronger Balkan means a stronger Europe and a stronger Euro-Atlantic partnership”, he said.
He said that he had first visited Belgrade in 1993 in the midst of war in Bosnia and remarked that the region has come a long way since then.
“A long road to our mutual vision of region fully integrated in the European family of nations and NATO, for those countries that have the ambition to join, is still ahead. United States has consistently, throughout decades, supported aspirations of the Balkan countries to join the EU. The enlargement is a key condition for security, stability, democracy and prosperity in the region”, Palmer emphasised.
That membership requires implementation of the reforms.
Just like the EU, NATO is also an standards-based organisation, and its door remain open for those who show political will and hard work, he added.
He reminded that NATO has already invited North Macedonia to join the Alliance, while the EU has signaled its readiness for opening of negotiations next June.
“Let us be clear, the European future requires that the Prespa agreement is accepted and fully implemented by both sides. There is no alternative answer. There is no plan B, no Prespa plus”, he said, adding that those who claims otherwise are misleading Macedonian public.
Everybody in Macedonia have to see how historic this opportunity is, said Palmer, inviting the leaders of VMRO-DPMNE to allow its MPs to vote in favour of the Agreement, without facing consequences afterwards.
According to him, Bosnia and Herzegovina represents a big concern for the United States.
“We see corrupt politicians who use nationalistic rhetoric in order to maintain the cleavages between three constituent nations. The youth is leaving the country because they do not see the future there”, he said, emphasising that the key is to solve the problem of corruption.
United States, he says, cooperates with local partners on strengthening the rule of law, judiciary and capacity to out-root the culture of getting away with breaking of the laws.
“US is ready for cooperation with new authorities in overcoming these challenges. We hope that the next government will be formed swiftly and focus on economic reform, rule of law and fight against corruption. Having in mind the complaints on election irregularities, it is crucial that the next government ensures more credible and transparent elections”, he said.
As a guarantee of a Dayton agreement, United States strongly supports sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia and Herzegovina and will oppose anyone who would undermine the work of Dayton institutions.
Palmer called on Belgrade and Pristina to seize the historic opportunity and reach a lasting agreement, which would be a “win-win” situation for both sides.
“Now is the time for compromise and flexibility”, he said.
“We do not support any specific formula, not there is a blank check. I urge Serbia and Kosovo to seize this opportunity”, he added.
“United States strongly supports Belgrade-Pristina dialogue that is conducted under mediation of EU. We welcome the intensifying efforts to reach an agreement in the past few months”, said Palmer.
He added that two sides cannot do it completely by themselves, that international community is there to help, but also that the agreement cannot be imposed from outside.
Palmer also reflected on Albania, saying that the country has come a long way as well, and emphasising that, having in mind the readiness of Brussels to open negotiations, implementation of the reforms remains crucial.
Albanian government has to show to Brussels and its citizens that it is ready for a process of transformation in order to ensure European future.
Speaking about Montenegro, he pointed out that the country should be proud of becoming a NATO member.
In order to secure progress in European integrations, Podgorica would have to double its efforts in implementing key reforms that would strengthen rule of law, fight against organised crime and contribute to the economic growth.
Palmer also urged Montenegro to protect media freedoms more robustly.