From left to right, Major General Salvatore Cuoci, Kosovo Force commander, Mr. Goran Rakic, Mitrovica north mayor, Mr. Agim Bahtiri, Mitrovica south mayor and Admiral James Foggo, Allied Joint Force Command Naples commander, share a symbolic handshake on the main Mitrovica bridge in Kosovo on Feb. 1. The meeting of the four leaders follows the January 16 assassination of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic.
Over the past two days I've been privileged to engage key leaders in the Western Balkans whom I'm convinced will partner in - and contribute to - our efforts to further secure and stabilize the region.
On Wednesday, I met with Serbian Minister of Defense Aleksandar Vulin, Chief of Defense Ljubisa Dikovic and Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Branimir Filopivic in Belgrade. I came away with a sense that while their history of disagreement with neighbors in the region remains, they are moving forward with a keen eye for the future to include membership in the EU and continuing partnership with NATO.
Serbia and Kosovo have been fortunate to benefit from a clear line of communication through the Pristina-Belgrade Dialogue, and despite the setback of the tragic murder of Kosovo Serb politician Oliver Ivanovic January 16, we will continue forward with constructive communication.
On Thursday, Kosovo Force Commander Major General Salvatore Cuoci and I walked across the Austerlitz bridge, the main bridge over the Ibar River and through downtown Mitrovica, not far from the scene of the Ivanovic murder. We met with the mayors of North and South Mitrovica Gorman Rakic and Agim Bahtiri, who are committed to moving past this incident in a calm and constructive manner.
I believe bridges connect. They require cooperation to build and maintain and are important symbols, connecting people, enabling trade and facilitating prosperity. The Austerlitz bridge connects the ethnically Serb and Albanian populations, and the two mayors are challenged to unite their constituents in the wake of Ivanavic's deplorable murder.
The Western Balkans are important to NATO and they are important to me. We will continue to connect, communicate and collaborate to ensure we provide security and stability for a stronger region, a more united Europe and a free and prosperous world.
Blog by Admiral James Foggo