Deputy Secretary of State Burns: I am very pleased to be back in Croatia, which I last visited 6 months ago. I want to thank you, Madam Minister, for your kind hospitality and for what was a very productive discussion.
The United States enjoys an exceptionally strong relationship with Croatia. In our discussions today, Foreign Minister Pusic and I explored our many common interests and how we might further strengthen our ties under the new government.
Croatia has made remarkable progress in only two decades since independence, becoming our NATO ally in 2009, and standing now on the threshold of the EU. I offer my warmest congratulations to the Foreign Minister and to all the Croatian people on last month’s successful referendum on EU membership.
Having signed the EU Accession treaty, Croatia is positioned to serve as a role model in the region for European and Euro-Atlantic integration. The United States highly values its partnership with Croatia in resolving outstanding issues in Southeastern Europe. The Foreign Minister and I had a very positive discussion about furthering our cooperation in the region and beyond. I urged Croatia to continue working with its neighbors to address bilateral and regional challenges such as refugees and related matters. I also expressed our appreciation for Croatia’s commitment to address the issue of restitution and to seek a measure of justice for victims of the Holocaust and its aftermath, which President Josipovic emphasized in his eloquent address last week in Israel.
Finally, we discussed our top global challenges and I strongly welcomed Croatia’s important contributions to global security, particularly its participation in ISAF, KFOR, and UN peacekeeping activities around the world.
The United States recognizes that this is a challenging time economically for the Croatian people, as it is throughout Europe and in my own country as well. I want to express strong U.S. support for the new Croatian government and its efforts to undertake economic reform. We especially believe that improvements to the business and investment climate could quickly stimulate growth and strengthen our bilateral economic relationship. We will work to use the Ron Brown Investment Forum in April to encourage greater U.S. investment in this country.
So thank you very much, Madam Foreign Minister, for your hospitality. I look forward very much to continuing our discussions in the weeks and months ahead and to continuing the strong partnership between our two countries. Thank you.
Question: Nenad Jovanovic, Tanjug. A question for Mr. Burns. Since this marks the end of the visit to the region, I would ask Mr. Burns to provide an overview of his talks in the region.
Deputy Secretary of State Burns: The purpose of my visit to the Western Balkans is to reaffirm the strong American commitment to strengthening bilateral relationships as well as to encourage further movement of the region along the path of Euro-Atlantic integration. My strong impression is that this is a moment of possibility, including possibility for further progress on questions such as EU candidacy status, if states are prepared to follow through and implement the commitments that they’ve made. I think this is a possibility, in each of the countries that I visited, and I also believe, as I said in my opening remarks, that Croatia offers a real model, a very positive model for its neighbors in the region. We look forward to working closely together with Croatia in encouraging its neighbors to move along that path.
Question: Sandra Veljkovic, Vecernji list daily. I have a question about the US expanding the visa waiver program to include especially Croatia. Did you discuss that issue with Ms. Pusic? And can you tell us whether the new act, the bipartisan act, will have any influence on that, whether the shift will be changed, for example, from the not the refusal rate but to the overstay rate?
Deputy Secretary of State Burns: We understand the significance of this issue for Croatia. We share a commitment to trying to make progress, so that Croatia can be a part of the visa waiver program. Croatia has already made significant progress in that direction and you are right to highlight the one remaining issue under the existing law. The United States Congress, as you pointed out, is now considering greater flexibility with new legislation and we will have to see what the Congress decides on that issue. But we will certainly do everything we can to continue to encourage Croatia's progress toward participation in that program.