Belgrade sees the United States as an important pillar in the competition of the great powers | Voice of America
Two decades after a US-led bombing campaign on the Serbian capital, Belgrade, which helped end the Kosovo war, a senior Serbian official said his country was eager to return to the friendly relations that have preceded the war – and improve them.
Marko Djuric, second leader of the Serbian ruling party and his country’s ambassador to Washington, told VOA that the US involvement in the 1990s conflict over Kosovo’s rejection of Serbian rule was “our only one. difficult period in relations with the United States ”.
“For two decades, I think it’s very safe to say that we are way beyond that and that we seek not only to put relationships back where they used to be, but even to strengthen them further,” Djuric said. stated in an interview at his official residence in Washington.
Relations between Belgrade and Washington have improved since the administration of former President Donald Trump negotiated an economic normalization agreement between Serbia and Kosovo, which was reached at the White House on September 4, 2020.
“I was [Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic’s] plus one at the signing ceremony, ”Djuric said half-jokingly. A month later, Djuric was asked to head Serbia’s diplomatic mission in Washington, demonstrating the importance his government attaches to the relationship.
Commercial office plans
“We would be delighted to see the increase in political communication at all levels, and we are working very hard to boost economic cooperation,” Djuric told VOA, citing a 50% increase in embassy staff and anticipating to open a sales office in San Francisco. Later this year.
Hearing long-standing conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, Biden signals interest in Europe
US President weighed in on long-running Serbia-Kosovo dispute with letters urging leaders of two countries to normalize relations based on ‘mutual recognition’
Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has publicly expressed personal affection for Kosovo, where his late son Beau Biden worked to rebuild institutions after the 1998-99 war. Kosovo “continues to hold a special place for the Biden family,” he said in a letter in February marking the country’s independence day.
But while some initiatives put in place by the Trump team now face an uncertain future, Djuric is unfazed and promises a warm welcome should Biden visit Belgrade on the 140th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Belgrade and Washington. .
Better communication, more trust
“As an ambassador, I will try to use the 140th anniversary as much as possible to bring the leaders of Serbia and the United States closer together,” Djuric said, noting that it has been more than 40 years since the former president Jimmy Carter visited Belgrade in 1980.
Djuric pledged to work “to increase the level of political communication and political trust between Serbia and the United States”, and that his country would like to see the United States increase its presence in “all spheres” in Serbia. .
Cameron Munter, former US Ambassador to Serbia, said in a written interview that Serbia’s awareness of the Biden administration came as no surprise, but that Belgrade needs to understand that US leaders are more concerned at the moment about the major transnational issues than through relations with individual countries.
“Certainly bilateral relations are important, but the Biden administration is looking at strategic issues, and any foreign ambassador would be wise, I believe, to understand bilateral relations in the larger context of global challenges,” Munter said.
Serbia, for its part, also sees its relations with Washington in a broader geopolitical context.
“Our need to better connect with all of our neighbors and to work towards creating lasting stability is imperative for our future development,” Djuric said. authority in our region always.
Links between China and Russia
The ambassador does not believe that US-Serbian relations should be held back by Belgrade’s long-standing ties with Russia or by a more recent increase in economic and other ties with China.
“We have benefited a lot from our partnership with China, but just as much with Russia, with the United States and with the European Union,” said Djuric, describing a “balanced approach” to foreign policy that has its roots. in old thought.
“We even have from the period of the Nemanjic dynasty – it is now over 800 years old – a saying that Serbia should be in the west to the east, east to the west and at the same time , above east and west, ”Djuric mentioned.
“We pay great attention not to go beyond our national interests. In this sense, we always evaluate the cost benefit analysis of everything. “
It was this balanced approach that led Vucic to risk angering Russia by coming to Washington to sign last year’s economic agreement with Kosovo – an act that prompted the Foreign Ministry spokesperson. foreigners from Moscow to accuse Vucic of selling himself, according to analyst Vuk, based in London and Belgrade. Vuksanovic. Russian President Vladimir Putin subsequently offered a rare apology for the remark.
Russian spokesperson apologizes for Facebook post about Serbian president
Maria Zakharova appeared to ridicule Serbian President after signing US-sponsored deal with Kosovo at the White House
Vuksanovic told VOA in a telephone interview from London that the apology was a sign of the importance Russia places on its own relationship with Serbia, and he urged Washington to pay attention to developments in Belgrade.
Other analysts believe that the real test of Serbia’s commitment to improving relations with Washington lies in strategic areas, such as energy security and the telecommunications industries.
“In his current form, I don’t think President Vucic will lose his Chinese and Russian friends if he promotes better relations with the United States,” said Leon Hartwell, acting director of the Transatlantic Leadership Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis.
“If, however, he was serious about energy diversification and signing the Clean Network – and here I’m not just talking about making lip service on these issues – then that would be another story.”
The Clean Network is a US-backed initiative to remove Chinese state-backed telecommunications entities, including Huawei, from 5G networks in partner and allied countries.