NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Serbia from 6 to 8 October, where he talked to top state officials in Belgrade – Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister Ana Brnabic. During the visit, the Secretary General issued a reminder that NATO’s primary objective in Western Balkans is to help build peace and stability as a foundation for progress. He added that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is the key to stability in the region.
After talks with President Vucic and Prime Minister Brnabic, together with the President he attended the opening ceremony of the civil exercise "SRBIJA 2018” in Mladenovac, dedicated to readiness to respond to emergency situations and natural disasters. The exercise was organized jointly by NATO’s Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre (EADRCC) and the Serbian Ministry of Interior. Mr. Stoltenberg said that the exercise was organized with around 2,000 participants from around 40 countries.
"NATO provides security in many different ways. Including by helping to save and protect people affected by natural disasters. This is why, 20 years ago, NATO established the Euro-Atlantic Disaster Response Coordination Centre. And began running exercises like the exercise we are opening today. So that NATO countries and our partners could train together. To better help each other in times of need. To save lives,” said NATO Secretary General.
He added that "SRBIJA 2018" is a great example of how Serbia’s partnership with NATO can bring concrete benefits to Serbia, to NATO, and to the whole region, and that the experience gained at the exercise will help save lives in the future. With regard to 1999, Mr. Stoltenberg said that he realizes that the Alliance remains controversial in Serbia and that the memories are still painful for many, but that the campaign was never against the Serbian people.
"Each innocent life lost was a tragedy which I deeply regret. I offer my condolences to the families and to all those who lost loved ones on both sides of the conflict. We must never forget the past. But we can move beyond it. And that is what NATO and Serbia are doing with our partnership. Looking towards a better future.”
NATO welcomes Serbia’s choice of a mutually beneficial partnership, and it fully respects Belgrade’s decision on neutrality. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic talked in Mladenovac about the need for good cooperation:
"Serbia will jealously guard its military neutrality, but Serbia is cooperating well with NATO, and will continue cooperating well with NATO. Serbia is currently at the last stage of creating and accepting the IPAP for 2018–2020, which is something Serbia will work on, because we want and wish and must have good relations, despite a painful and difficult history, for the sake of our citizens’ future.”
Secretary General Stoltenberg also reminded that NATO allies are today the largest investors in the region, helping the creation of new jobs. After the exercise, the Secretary General and President took part in the special event organized by the Belgrade Security Forum. During the panel Leadership for a Secure Region, Stoltenberg and Vucic talked openly about the relationship between NATO and Serbia, challenges, relations in the region, and reiterated that those relations need to be developed in the interest of both parties.
"Only the people in this region, in South East Europe or the Balkans can solve the problems of this region. It cannot be solved in Brussels. We can help, we can assist, we can perhaps give advice if you ask us for advice. Therefore I urge calm and restraint and not to return to nationalistic rhetoric,” the NATO Secretary General said.
"We will do our best for Serbia, and we will invest efforts into maintaining peace and stability, which means that we do know what was done to us, what we did to others and we need to avoid the same types of mistakes from the past. We will do our best to carry on dialogue with Pristina, to establish a better relationship with the new Bosnian leadership, and I think that there is no doubt that we will have to have a better relationship with Croatia. That is something that we can contribute,” said Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.
After Belgrade, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg visited Zagreb and Ljubljana.