PRIME MINISTER MARKOVIC: (Via interpreter) Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to express my great pleasure over having this opportunity today to host the Secretary of State Mr. Pompeo. This is a historic visit of a secretary of state of the United States to our country. After the visit of Vice President Pence, this is another testimony to the excellent relations of our two countries, and this is a token that the United States appreciate our alliance and constructive role in the region and beyond. Bearing in mind that the Secretary of State will travel to the north of Macedonia from here, we hope that it will – and hopefully to, as soon as possible, be a next alliance member, this visit is even more so a token of support for our region, its prosperity and stability.
We had a very comprehensive conversation. We talked about many issues in this period of our friendship and alliance. We appreciate the full support expressed by Secretary Pompeo for our European integration, and we received many kind words about our progress in various reforms, owing to which our country became a NATO member-state and a front-liner for European integration.
Montenegro will continue to carry out reforms in the field of rule of law at an undiminished pace. We will continue to tackle organized crime, to protect media freedoms, primarily for our own sake and then for the sake of integration process. Also we will continue to counter human trafficking strongly, which is a problem that represents a form of organized crime present in Montenegro, because the assurances that United States will continue to offer support and assistance for our institutions in order for them to strengthen their capabilities and in order to (inaudible) with all forms of organized crimes and to be able to strengthen the rule of law as a whole.
It is particularly important that the United States is supportive of European and Euro-Atlantic integration and our region as a whole in line with the merit-based principle that is the sole guarantor for its long-term stability and security. It is very important for Montenegro and Serbia to swiftly continue with negotiations and that Northern Macedonia and Albania commence negotiations this year.
I believe that this visit will bring about new enthusiasm and energy for the continuation of democratic and economic development of the region as well towards resolution of the pending issues in coordination and cooperation with the European Union where the United States can count on the support and constructive approach of Montenegro. It is of strategic importance that the United States and European Union be present in the Western Balkans and work together so as not to leave any room to those who do not share our common principles and values. Montenegro and the United States do not only share friendly relations and close ties, we are – also have the bonds within NATO, which is the strongest security alliance in the world. The United States has played an important role in our preparations for membership. We are already now reaping a lot of benefits security-wise and economy-wise from that alliance.
It is very important for Montenegro that United States – it is very important that Montenegro supports the position of the United States concerning burden sharing with other allies because this is our responsibility for our own security. Every year, Montenegro has been increasing its investment into defense, and there is no doubt that by 2024, and I am hopeful even sooner, we will be able to reach this 2 percent goal that is our shared goal. It is so important for us in order to be able to contribute together to the mission towards promoting peace and stability, the missions in which Montenegro participates in line with its capacity, a strong Afghanistan, Kosovo, to the eastern flank of the alliance, where our soldiers are being deployed together with the soldiers of our allied countries. We will continue to counter modern security threats and challenges wherever they might be coming from, whether we are talking about countering terrorism or hybrid threats, while promoting these Atlantic values, Euro-Atlantic values, in the region and beyond.
We’ve touched upon many issues pertaining to bilateral cooperation, particularly the need to reinforce our economic relations and to increase the presence of American investment in this, crucial branches of economy of Montenegro and the attraction of a higher number of American tourists. I believe that we have very certain and good prospects ahead of us.
Once again, let me reiterate my gratitude to Secretary Mr. Pompeo for his friendship, and I am assured that this visit will be another impulse in strengthening our closer cooperation and relations. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Good morning. I would like to begin by thanking you, Prime Minister Markovic, President Djukanovic, and my good friend the foreign minister. Thanks for your hospitality, and it’s great to be with you. Thanks for welcoming my team as well. The remarkable work that our teams do together is important for Montenegro, for the United States, and for the region.
My visit today marks the first visit of a secretary of state since your nation’s independence 13 years ago, making this a historic occasion. I want to start too by congratulating you on your accession to the NATO alliance, one of the world’s most effective and important security alliances. Thank you for getting on track too to meet the 2 percent spending commitment.
You have also deployed as much as a quarter of your armed forces on international issues in this last year, including a greater contribution to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. This is collective burden sharing at its best and at its finest, and you are to be commended for that.
We’ve also seen Montenegro’s commitment in confronting 21st century threats. Because of our direct cybersecurity cooperation with Montenegro, we have been able to develop patches against the latest Russian malware that now protect billions of devices worldwide. I am proud to say that the next round of collaboration is currently underway, and I know it will yield positive results.
And just as Montenegro has fostered regional stability as a member of NATO, Montenegro shares America’s priorities across a range of foreign policy issues. We want to thank you for supporting U.S. resolutions at the United Nations and for complementing our diplomatic efforts regarding Syria, Iraq, Libya, and the Islamic Republic of Iran. And I am pleased to report that just this week the U.S. offered an agreement to Montenegro for the largest sale of military equipment in the history between our two nations. The United States looks forward to delivering $36 million worth of light tactical vehicles to our NATO ally once this agreement is finalized.
Moving to domestic issues, we look to you and to your government more specifically to lead regional efforts to eradicate corruption, strengthen the rule of law, and guarantee the freedom of the press. I know our diplomats here are very focused on this mission and they’ll help you get it right.
Earlier this year, I had the privilege to meet Olivera Lakic, one of the State Department’s International Women of Courage awardees. She is a Montenegrin journalist who was shot in the leg for reporting on cigarette smuggling. Despicable attacks on journalists like this are an assault on democracy and the shared principles of our NATO alliance, and I know that those responsible will be held accountable by your country.
Finally, good governance, accountability, and transparency are key to the continued growth of tourism and foreign investment here. Right now, more than 50 American companies do business in Montenegro, and we are eager for that number to grow. In this area too our team, our embassy on the ground, stands prepared to provide information and facilitate connections.
On behalf of the American people, I am proud to say the United States will continue to stand with the people of Montenegro as a friend, as a partner, and as an ally. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister, for welcoming me here.