Friday, September 08, 2006

Serbian president satisfied with "constructive" meetings with US officials

Text of interview with Serbian President Boris Tadic by RTS correspondent Nenad Zafirovic in Washington, broadcast by Serbian TV on 7 September

[Zafirovic] Good evening, Mr President. We have just seen the report on the signing of the SOFA agreement between yourself and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Could you tell us what SOFA [status of American forces] means?

[Tadic] It is a contract that the United States signs with every country that it wants to develop a strategic partnership with in defence and security. It is a prerequisite for future cooperation between our armed forces and those of the United States.

After this, the entire delegation is leaving for Ohio tomorrow where we will sign a new agreement on cooperation between the National Guard of Ohio and our armed forces. Senator Voinovich contributed a lot to this. It will have a practicable impact on training and new experience for our officers and soldiers, enhance the operability and the quality of our armed forces, and prepare not only for operations at home but for peacekeeping operations all over the world. This way our country will gain new credibility, we will become a country that is not only an importer of security, but an exporter of security as well. Thus we will not be in a situation where someone is always taking care of us, but possibly able to take care about someone else, and thereby boost Serbia's new ratings for foreign investments and finally, this is favourable for the living standards of citizens.

[Zafirovic] In addition to signing the agreement, you spoke with Rice for nearly 40 minutes. I suppose Kosovo-Metohija was the main topic. Yesterday you said that after the talks on Capitol Hill you felt that Washington was gradually forming an opinion that Kosovo should be granted some form of independence. Was this Rice's view and what arguments did you present against this stance?

[Tadic] This kind of opinion prevailed in all my meetings in Washington and we should be frank about this to our public. On the other hand, Serbia is defending its legitimate position with all its strength, which is to oppose the independence of Kosmet and preserve the country's territorial integrity and sovereignty. I said this frankly to our collocutors but I also said that Serbia was more than interested in strategic partnership with the United States, keeping in mind this country's importance in the world, the fact that it accounts for nearly 50 per cent of the world economy, that it manages many crises in the world, and that the word of the United States is very important for future membership of the European Union. I believe it is very much in Serbia's interest to have the best possible relations with Washington, and that is why I am here today, that is why we had state delegations some time ago which also represented Serbia's stance, not only on Kosovo but on bilateral relations with the United States. That was a very constructive meeting, as all the meetings I have had so far. I expect the meeting with Vice President Cheney will be so as well. It was a very forthright discussion, even when we expressed differences, we found constructive solutions for our future relations after the talks on Kosovo.

[Zafirovic] Before your departure from Belgrade, you said clearly that Washington and Belgrade must expand economic and military cooperation regardless of Kosovo. Do you think Washington understands this appeal and message?

[Tadic] I was absolutely assured of it today. It is an important message that I am carrying with me to Belgrade. I said I was not satisfied with the level of US investments in our economy and the number of jobs that have opened, even though US companies are in fact the biggest investors in Serbia, but there is room for much more. I am dissatisfied because a lot more could have been done in the previous period and that we have a lot of work to do in the economic aspect in the future. But in order for all this to happen we must have the closest relations with the United States and the Euro-Atlantic structure in the domain of defence, because no one will invest in a country which does not offer additional security. Today, it is Euro-Atlantic structures that offer this quality of safety and security for investments.

[Zafirovic] Thank you, Mr President.

[Tadic] Thank you.

Source: RTS 1 TV, Belgrade, in Serbian 1730 gmt 7 Sep 06

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