Let’s turn now to Kosovo, and ask why it matters to the United States. Why should the U.S. care about a landlocked developing country 5,000 miles away, smaller than Connecticut, with fewer than 2 million people? Why would the country’s situation in 1999 cause NATO to launch its first war in 50 years? Why would the U.S. provide it with half a billion dollars of assistance funding over the last decade? Why maintain hundreds of American soldiers at KFOR? Or why begin construction of a beautiful new embassy in Pristina?
We can turn to history for part of the answer: “It may not be immediately apparent that the brutal policies of a local leader, and the tragedy of one small people, matter so much that they affect fundamental American interests — but they do,” Secretary Albright noted sixteen years ago. She added, “America has a fundamental interest in peace and stability in Southern Europe and in seeing the rule of law upheld, human rights protected and justice done.”
I couldn’t agree more. But for me, that is not the entire story. The United States continues to pursue a Europe whole, free, and at peace. We aren’t there yet. But difficulties only make us want to work harder to fulfill our vision. In Europe. In the Western Balkans. And in Kosovo. The book of Europe will not be finished until the Kosovo chapter is done. Completing it will be one of the most significant challenges we face over the next few years.
I believe the citizens of Kosovo share our vision. Their aspirations include Kosovo as a democratic, multi-ethnic nation, recognized and at peace with its neighbors, with a well-functioning government that implements the rule of law and is free from the scourge of corruption. They too want a Kosovo that is on a steady path towards membership in key European institutions. And they want a Kosovo where they can reasonably expect to find jobs that will give their families a positive future.
Looking back, it’s clear that Kosovo has already come a long way. However, it’s also clear that Kosovo’s journey is not yet over.
Ambassador Ismaili, I want your government to know that I, and in fact, the people of the United States, will be on that path by your side. Partners, we will work together to realize this vision. Today’s generation of Kosovo’s leaders has the opportunity to set their country on a course that will achieve it.
But we don’t have much time to waste. The emigration crisis last winter signaled loud and clear that many of Kosovo’s youth – its most precious resource – were beginning to lose faith in the future.
Therefore, when I arrive in Pristina next month, I will set to work with your government on three key goals: strengthening Rule of Law; improving Regional Security; and promoting Economic Development.
To me, rule of law means applying the same standards the international community has sought from other states descended from Yugoslavia; it means leaders demonstrating that they are willing to put the interests of their country first. Along these lines, the next few days will be crucial; I sincerely hope that Kosovo will pass legislation in the immediate future to create a Special Court that will bring justice to those who suffered at the hands of others. Failure by Kosovo to live up to its international commitment on the Court would set all of our other activities back.
Regional security requires Kosovo to go full speed ahead on the Dialog with Serbia that is being facilitated by the European Union, with strong support from the United States. The 2013 Brussels Agreement was a historic achievement on the road toward normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia. We should not waste any time in implementing the few remaining chapters of that deal. Other key issues challenging Kosovo include its important work as part of the counter-ISIL coalition and the development of a modern security sector that reflects the sensitivities of all of its people.
Promoting economic development requires a firm commitment to tackling corruption, the enemy of democracy and economic growth. Addressing corruption will be essential for Kosovo not only to attract the foreign investment needed to jump-start its economy, but also to give Kosovo’s own citizens the confidence they need to invest and create jobs themselves. Economic development also requires progress on a stable and reliable electricity generation system for Kosovo’s communities.
Rule of law, regional security, economic development. Some of these goals will be harder to achieve than others. Important goals aren’t always easy to implement. But Kosovo’s citizens, especially its youth, deserve nothing less than success.
Fortunately, I will have a lot of help. I know I will be joining a terrific team of Americans and Locally-Engaged Staff at Embassy Pristina. I know that most of Kosovo’s partners in Europe will be supportive of these goals. And I know that I can draw on the wealth of enthusiasm and good feeling towards Kosovo that is evident in Washington. These are tremendous advantages for a new ambassador to have in his briefcase. With all these advantages, I am confident that working together, we can achieve success and give Kosovo’s youth the kind of future they expect – and deserve. And Kosovo’s success will be America’s success too.
Kosovo, we are rooting for you.
Thanks to you all. See you in Pristina.