U.S. Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg has arrived in Belgrade on the third stop of his Balkan tour, and he met this morning with Serbian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Ivica Dacic.
During his meetings with local officials, Steinberg is expected to “convey to Serbia’s officials Washington’s support to the country’s European aspiration and the U.S. government’s readiness to cooperation with Belgrade on strengthening stability in the region”.
According to the Tanjug news agency, Steinberg will also encourage the local authorities to cooperate with Pristina in resolving practical issues.
Steinberg began his Balkan tour on Tuesday with stops in Ljubljana and Sarajevo with the “goal of promoting stability and the integration of Western Balkans into Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions.”
It remains unclear if he will meet with other officials in Belgrade. As Beta news agency learned from the cabinet of the Serbian President Boris Tadic, they have no information on a possible meeting between Tadic and the U.S. deputy secretary of state.
Ahead of the visit, Steinberg said that he was encouraged by the progress Serbia made on its EU path last year, referencing the visa-free regime for Serbians travelling to Schengen zone countries and noting that Serbia had submitted its application for EU candidate status and that the EU interim trade agreement had been unfrozen.
“I’ve also been encouraged with my meetings including with the Interior Minister here a few weeks ago that Serbia understands the importance of cooperation with the Hague Tribunal as a key to Serbia’s future integration into the EuroAtlantic community,” Steinberg added in his statement.
Speaking about Belgrade-Pristina relations, Steinberg said that the US had a different position from Serbia regarding Kosovo’s independence but will talk with the leaders of both sides to try bridge the gap between Serb and Albanian communities in Kosovo.
He went on to say that Washington continued to see Kosovo’s independence as a positive step towards regional stability.
“We understand this is a difficult issue for Serbia, but we will continue to cooperate in the interest of both parties”, he added.
Speaking about the resolution condemning the Srebrenica massacre that the Serbian parliament adopted last Tuesday, Steinberg said that it was very important as it reflected the readiness of the leaders in the region to turn a new page in their relations.
“It is a courageous decision and reflects the kinds of steps that all the parties in this region, and in particular here in Bosnia and Herzegovina, have to take to acknowledge the extraordinarily difficult and painful past that you had to live through and the need to draw a new conclusion from that,” he said at a press conference in Sarajevo on Wednesday.
After Belgrade, the U.S. deputy secretary of state will head to Pristina, which is the last stop on his tour of the region.