WASHINGTON – U.S. State Department Advisor Derek Chollet and Gabriel Escobar, U.S. Special Envoy for the Western Balkans, were asked by members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee about the status of their efforts, which are part of an international diplomatic push aimed at bringing countries closer together. in the European Union and the transatlantic alliance.
Some senators expressed skepticism about overall progress against corruption and crime in the region and the process of normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Radio Free Europe reported.
Chollet said the Western Balkan countries have come a long way since the wars of the 1990s and have enormous potential for prosperity, “but they need our help to overcome still considerable obstacles.”
Among these problems are undemocratic leaders, corruption, weak rule of law, lack of independent institutions, dependence on Russian energy and disinformation, he said, calling leaders of the region to demonstrate political courage to overcome them.
According to Voice of America (VoA) When Mendez asked Chollet about Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić’s incriminating article in the “New York Times” magazine about the government’s connection to Veljko Belivuk’s criminal gang, Chollet said the US administration believes the information from the “New York Times” is credible. He did not talk about the details of the article but said the United States would test it.
“Our eyes are open, we call on President Vučić and his colleagues to be held accountable for corruption and other activities,” Chollet said.
Commission Chairman Robert Menendez expressed concern over “bad faith actors” regarding tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as attempts to resolve diplomatic issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
In response, Chollet highlighted significant efforts in the fight against corruption, which he said constitute the main obstacle to progress in the region. He also stressed that he supports recent legislation codifying the Biden administration’s executive order calling for sanctions against individuals opposing the fragile peace created by the Dayton Accord.
He said it would give negotiators more tools to fight corruption in the region.
According to RFE, Chollet also said the United States was focused on challenges in Bosnia, where “pervasive corruption, democratic backsliding and increasingly inflammatory rhetoric from ethno-nationalist leaders are deeply troubling.”
He cited the threat of secession by the Serb-dominated entity in Bosnia and attempts to limit civil society and media freedoms as destabilizing and an attack on the foundations of the Dayton Accord that ended in the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.
“We have made it clear that we oppose such actions and will impose consequences,” he said without directly referring to Republika Srpska President Milorad Dodik, who has already been targeted by US sanctions. United States and the United Kingdom over allegations of corruption and destabilizing actions, such as repeated threats to pursue independence and union with neighboring Serbia.
Chollet highlighted the importance of Montenegro’s parliamentary elections in June, where the United States hopes to see additional fair and free representation, as well as greater commitment to European integration.
Regarding the situation in North Macedonia, Chollet cited Prime Minister Dimitar Kovachevski’s recent positive statements regarding European integration as proof of hope for greater progress in the country.
“The politics are tough, but the political will is there,” he said. RFE reported.
Escobar agreed that to progress towards EU enlargement to Bosnia, targeted constitutional changes would be essential and that, even if these discussions have started, getting all parties to agree on a single interpretation of the agreement of Dayton would already constitute a significant challenge.
He said the failure to make progress had “allowed Russia to play a disruptive role in Serbia’s strategic goal of European integration – which the Serbian people ardently desire and which we strongly support.”