SECRETARY CLINTON: It’s a great pleasure to be back here in Belgrade. Some of you I know were here when I was able to visit two years ago for a longer visit, but I’m delighted that I was able to come this time to thank each and every one of you for the work that you are doing on behalf of this vital relationship.
And this was a special unified visit, because Cathy Ashton, the High Representative of the European Union, and I started in Bosnia-Herzegovina, came here, will end the night in Pristina, where we’ll meet tomorrow with the leadership of Kosovo to emphasize a single message – that the future of these three countries is in Europe and in the Euro-Atlantic alliance, and that the United States strongly supports their aspirations.
I want to thank Ambassador Kirby and his wife Sara; I want to thank DCM Lee Litzenberger, and the entire Belgrade team for everything you did to prepare for this short visit, but I know that the work goes on day in and day out on so many fronts.
We’ve been clear that before setting a date for accession talks with the EU, Serbia does need to make progress on normalizing its relations with Kosovo. We recognize that Serbia cannot and will not formally recognize Kosovo, but there are lots of steps that the two countries must take together. And I thank you for sending that message on a regular basis.
We’ve also seen the bilateral relationship deepen and broaden. For example, two years ago when I was here, I committed to encouraging American businesses to invest in Serbia, and many of you in this room are making that happen. In fact, we have an economic team winner here today. American auto parts suppliers are key partners in the Fiat factory. Two American companies have opened call centers in Serbia, creating more than 400 jobs. There are a lot of win-win investments.
And I want especially to congratulate the chief of your economic section, Doug Apostol. When I was here two years ago and I spoke with the Prime Minister about a disagreement over risk insurance that was holding up a multimillion-dollar hotel project, Doug and his team got to work, and he was instrumental in helping to get that dispute resolved. That project is now going forward, bringing a number of new good jobs to Serbia. So for these and other efforts, later this year, Doug will receive the Department’s highest award for international economic work. It’s a rare honor and richly deserved. Congratulations, Doug. (Applause.)
Let me also commend each of you who worked so hard in the passage of Serbia’s new property restitution law, making sure it would cover victims of the Holocaust, many of whom are now American citizens. I thank all of you who stood up for the rights of Serbian Americans and helped the government bring this difficult issue to a successful conclusion.
In fact, I cannot imagine that we could be making the progress we are without our dedicated local staff. And I would like all of our Serbian staff members to please raise your hands so that we can recognize and thank each and every one of you. (Applause.) Because one thing I know for sure is that ambassadors, DCMs, secretaries come and go, but our local staff remain. You serve as our institutional memory bank, and we know how important you are.
I also want to thank all the family members who are here. I had a great opportunity to take a picture with some of the children, and they really did show great patience, because our meeting and press conference went a little long, but I was so happy to see them and have a chance to thank them and all of you who support those who serve.
I understand our local staff and FSOs have put together a basketball team, and soon you’re headed to Sarajevo for a tournament with other posts from around the Balkans. Now as Secretary, obviously I can’t take sides in such a competition – (laughter) – but I do want to just note that this is a great way of creating more public diplomacy and outreach as well as some healthy competition.
Now I know that there have been some difficult and risky moments in your service here in Serbia. We saw this when the Embassy was attacked four years ago. But this mission never skipped a beat. You kept doing what needed to be done. And I am very committed to your safety, and when you finally move in to your new Embassy compound, I’m confident it will give you a very safe place to work, as well as a more comfortable one. You will actually even, many of you, have offices with real windows once again. (Laughter.)
I want to thank all of you who serve the United States here in Serbia – civilian and military, U.S. Government across the board, every department and agency, in particular the State Department and USAID. And I’m very grateful to you, because I think this is a consequential relationship. We want to see the people of Serbia have an opportunity to participate fully in Europe and eventually in the Euro-Atlantic alliance. We want to see the people, particularly the young people of Serbia, have a chance to fulfill their own potential and aspirations. And the United States is very firm in our support of that kind of future for Serbia. We can’t do it from Washington; it has to be, done day in and day out, right here in Belgrade and across the country. And in order to do that, we look to each and every one of you.
So thank you for your service. I’ll start down there and shake a few hands and have a chance to thank you personally. Thank you all. (Applause.)