US Vice President Joe Biden apologised in Belgrade on Tuesday to the families of those killed in NATO's four-month air strikes against Serbia and Yugoslavia in 1999, saying peace and stability in the Western Balkans now were very important for all of Europe, and praising Serbia's leadership in the region, notably in the relations with Croatia.
Biden extended his condolences to all the families who lost their loved ones in NATO's campaign. He was one of the first US officials who advocated a military intervention by Western allies against the Slobodan Milosevic regime in the late 1990s.
Biden visited Belgrade as the first stop of a Balkan tour. Addressing a joint press conference with Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic, Biden called Serbia a key political and economic cornerstone for the whole region and said he respected the leadership Vucic had shown in important situations.
Biden said he appreciated Vucic's message that Serbia would assume responsibility for what was done wrong in the past and that he hoped other countries in the region would do the same.
He said Vucic had taken huge steps to make Serbia a winner in many fields and that US President Barack Obama and he respected the leadership Vucic had shown in many moments, notably in the relations with Croatia.
I have seen your neighbours Croatia, Kosovo, Montenegro, and it is important for all of Europe that this region be united and peaceful. Serbia represents a cornerstone, politically and economically, Biden said.
He commended Vucic for the reconciliation policy in the region, highlighting his going to Srebrenica to a commemoration for the genocide victims and the recent signing of an agreement with Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic.
Biden said the US supported Serbia's European path because it was in US interest. He said the US was helping Serbia to improve its military equipment and be able to cooperate with NATO. He said the US and Serbian armies were fighting against Islamic State together and participating in global peace operations.
Vucic said he expected significant US support for keeping the peace and stability in the region, saying that without them, there was no better living nor economic progress.
Vucic said it was easy to cause conflicts but that everyone in the region must dedicate "more energy to peace-keeping and stabilisation." He added that Serbia would "do its best to contribute to that."
Speaking of his talks with Biden, Vucic highlighted US-Serbia bilateral relations, Belgrade-Pristina dialogue and possible progress in the application of the Brussels agreement, and regional relations and Serbia's European path.
Biden arrived in Belgrade at the head of a delegation numbering over 400. He also met with President Tomislav Nikolic. After Belgrade, he is going to Pristina.