Oh, it is wonderful seeing you, and I want to echo all the remarks of the Ambassador about the extraordinary work that you have done over the last years. And it means a great deal to the United States, to me personally, and to the people of our two countries that you are personally helping to forge a new chapter in our bilateral relationship.
I’m delighted to be starting my day off by seeing all of you and being able to extend my appreciation. I want to thank the Ambassador for her leadership here, your DCM, and all of you for not only what you do every day but for what you’ve done in preparation and execution of my visit and, of course, of Vice President Biden’s last year.
This is such an important time for the Balkans, and in our estimation, the changes that have occurred are really seminal; they mark such a turning point, but it is still not fully determined how this will play out. Serbia and Kosovo are working on a direct dialogue. We just had another election in Bosnia-Herzegovina which brought some hope for better cooperation although still a difficult challenge. Five countries in the region are taking steps to achieve full integration into the Euro-Atlantic community, and we believe that these and other steps promote our shared goals of stability and prosperity throughout the region.
And the United States is committed to helping to advance these goals and assisting these countries as they move forward. Your work with the Government of Serbia and its civil society organizations is helping to strengthen local institutions. I had an excellent visit with a number of the civil society representatives last night that many of you helped to arrange, and it really gave me more insight into the progress but still the remaining challenges that have to be dealt with.
Our military-to-military cooperation is helping to pave the way for Serbia to increase its contributions to global peacekeeping efforts, and the extended 10-year visa eligibility now makes it easier for Serbians to travel to the United States and to form lasting bonds with our people as well.
I know there’s a lot of work ahead, but I’m kind of a “glass is half full” person. I think we look at where we have come from, and yes, there is a lot ahead of us, but we should be proud of the progress that has been made here in Serbia over the last 10 years.
Just a decade ago, Serbia was still making the transition to a democratically elected government and we were working to restore diplomatic relations between our two countries. In fact, it was just 10 years ago this week that a small group of Americans and local staff members met here at this hotel to begin planning the reopening of U.S. Embassy Belgrade. A number of the local staff who helped reopen the Embassy are here today, so I’d like you to raise your hand – all of you who were here working for this Embassy 10 years ago – so I can see you and thank you very much for those 10 years of service that led to this day.
I think that there is a big agenda on the economic development front that we are going to be pursuing, and I’m excited that we’ve broken ground on a new Embassy compound, where we’ll be able to set the gold standard for diplomatic missions in Serbia. And it will be able to house our various aspects of the mission in one place, so there’ll be a lot of coordination and cooperation. It will set a high standard for energy efficient technology and the green standard for U.S. embassies around the world. I’m certainly looking forward to seeing it finished the summer of 2012, but probably not as much as you are.
But every one of you – Foreign Service, Civil Service, representatives of other U.S. Government agencies, local staff – your families have sacrificed a great deal to advance our work over the past 10 years. Some of you may have been here when the Embassy was attacked two years ago. How many of you were here for that? And you had to evacuate your families or had to be evacuated yourselves. Some of you chose to stay even through tough and uncertain times.
Whatever your role in whatever capacity, I want to thank each of you for the hours you’ve put in and the spirit that you bring to your work each day. I am very impressed by what this government is attempting to do, by the vision that President Tadic has of what is possible for Serbia in the future. We don’t have a vote as the United States in the European Union, but if I did have a vote, I’d vote today to begin the accession process, because I think it will be to Serbia’s great advantage to be integrated into Europe, to be a member of the European Union. Serbia has so much to contribute. And I’m personally going to be lobbying members of the EU when I see them in Brussels tonight to carry the message that Serbia is ready and Serbia should not be kept waiting.
And I know too when someone like me comes, it just adds so much extra work. I didn’t expect them to shut down the city – (laughter) – but I’m sure that’s made it more complicated to get around. But you all deserve to take a deep breath and a sigh of relief when I finally take off from the airport. But I am really pleased to have this chance to personally express our gratitude to you. I know how important the work that you do every day is. I mean, I can come in, a Secretary of State can come in, a Vice President can come in, but it’s the day-to-day connections that really matter that build the strong bonds between our people. And I want to see those bonds strengthened and deepened, and I want the relationship between our governments to grow and I want to see Serbia play a larger and larger role in regional and global affairs. And I think with your help, we can contribute to making that happen. Thank you all very much. (Applause.)