NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday in Brussels that Serbia is “an exporter of stability” in the region.
Stoltenberg made this statement after his meeting with Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
During a joint press conference, Stoltenberg also said NATO “respects Serbia’s military neutrality,” and expressed his “regret over the loss of innocent lives” during the western military alliance’s 1999 bombing of Serbia.
“I strongly believe in the potential of NATO-Serbia cooperation. We can remember the past, but look to the future. As I said when I visited Belgrade, the purpose and the aim of the NATO air campaign back in 1999 was to protect civilians, and we did so. The loss of innocent lives was a tragedy and I deeply regret it,” said he.
“We just had an excellent meeting of the North Atlantic Council and this is the first time ever a Serbian Prime Minister meets the North Atlantic Council and I think that just shows how we are now moving forward together on the path of strengthening the partnership and the cooperation between NATO and Serbia,” he said, adding:
“And I am personally very proud of my bonds and my friendship with you and with Serbia, and therefore I really appreciate to have you here today and also the opportunity we had this morning to have a breakfast together and to address a wide range of issues and the common challenges we face, Serbia and NATO.”
Serbia is “at the heart of the Balkan region, which is at the heart of Europe,” Stoltenberg said, noting that the country “contributes to regional and international stability in different ways.”
“I welcome your many different efforts. I welcome the reforms you are implanting at home, we are impressed by the strong economic growth and the strength of the Serbian economy. We welcome your personal engagement in taking the dialogue with Pristina forward and also the way Serbia has addressed and played a key role in addressing the refugee and migrant crisis. And we also welcome the fact that Serbia contributes with troops and peace-keeping missions in Cyprus, in Lebanon and in Africa. So Serbia is an integral part of the European family. We share the same values. Human rights, democracy and the rule of law,” the NATO secretary general said.
“We fully respect the neutrality of Serbia, that’s your sovereign national decision but based on that full respect of your neutrality we welcome that we are able to strengthen our cooperation. We also support the efforts of Serbia to move towards the EU. And we think that’s good for Serbia, it’s good for the EU and it’s good for NATO, stability and cooperation in Europe,” said Stoltenberg.