US Vice-President Joseph Biden offered condolences to the families of 1999 NATO bombing victims and urged Serbia and Kosovo to resolve open issues during a visit to Belgrade.
US Vice-President Joe Biden on Tuesday offered condolences to victims of the Balkan wars, as well as those killed by the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.
“The memories of the loss of the loved ones are still fresh,” Biden said. “My condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost during the wars in the 1990s, including those whose lives were lost as the result of the NATO campaign.”
In March 1999, NATO launched an air strike campaign against Serbia and Montenegro to force Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. According to the official data of the Serbian authorities, between 1200 and 2500 people were killed by NATO bombs.
A US senator at the time, Biden was a strong advocate for the 1999 NATO bombing. He once said that his work to end the Yugoslav wars was one of the “proudest moments” of his long political career.
During his visit to Serbia, Biden met Serbian Prime Minister Vucic and President Tomislav Nikolic.
Belgrade will not back the European Union’s sanctions against Moscow for the purpose of mirroring Brussels’ foreign policy, Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic told Biden during a meeting in Belgrade.
"We cannot introduce sanctions against Russia if it means [Serbia’s] harmonization with EU foreign policy. We are tied to Russia, we are bound with the United States where a large Serbian community lives," Nikolic said on Tuesday.
After meeting Vucic, Biden said that Serbia has made a lot of progress since the nineties.
While in Belgrade, Biden said that he hopes Serbia will take responsibility for its involvement in the conflicts of the nineties but added that other countries should do the same.
“We had a couple of topics in our talks and number one was the advance of dialogue with Kosovo,” said Biden.
Since the 1999 conflict and NATO intervention, Serbia has refused to recognize the loss of Kosovo and its subsequent declaration of independence in 2008, insisting that the former province remains an integral part of Serbian territory.
However, Belgrade and Pristina have been negotiating in Brussels since 2012 on numerous contentious issues. Pristina insists that Belgrade recognize Kosovo independence.
Biden also said that civil society representatives are concerned about rise of corruption in Serbia.
He also offered Serbia US help in modernizing its army so it could “even better cooperate with NATO.”
Vucic pledged Serbia’s commitment to peace in the region, warning the simmering tensions in the Balkans could lead to more clashes.
“Only a spark is needed for chaos,” he said.
During Biden’s visit, hundreds of Serbian ultra-nationalist members of the Serbian Radical Party, SRS, protested in Belgrade. Many wore t-shirts with the image of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump accompanied by the slogan “Vote for Trump!”.
The Serbian Radical Party is led by Vojislav Seselj, who was tried on and acquitted of war crimes in the International Court in Hague. The Radicals are the third largest party in the Serbian Parliament.
After several hours in Belgrade, Biden left for Pristina. On Wednesday, he will meet Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.
Biden will also participate in a ceremony to name a road after his deceased son Beau Biden near Camp Bondsteel, the main base for US troops serving with NATO forces in Kosovo.