Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton recently concluded a trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Croatia, and Albania. The Secretary's visit to the Balkans demonstrated U.S. commitment and support for the region's future in the European and Euro-Atlantic community.
As Secretary Clinton said, the United States shares the goal of a whole, free, and democratic Europe that includes all the countries in this important region. We believe it is the surest path to a future of peace, stability, and prosperity. And to that end, the United States will do all we can to support that goal.
European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Baroness Catherine Ashton joined Secretary Clinton for her visit to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, and Kosovo. In Sarajevo, the Secretary and High Representative Ashton underlined the need for party leaders to accomplish necessary reforms, in particular resolving the defense property issue and implementing constitutional change to comply with the European Court of Human Rights' ruling in the Sejdic-Finci case. They also stressed the immutability of the international community's commitment to the Dayton Peace Accords.
In both Serbia and Kosovo, Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton reiterated U.S.-EU resolve for both countries to implement the agreements reached to date in the EU-facilitated dialogue and to advance concrete measures that will normalize relations between the two. We call for the two governments to move forward in the next phase of dialogue with practical agreements that serve the concrete security and economic interests of all the people of Serbia and Kosovo.
In addition to their commitment to the dialogue process, Serbia and Kosovo must focus on domestic reforms to move forward on their respective Euro-Atlantic integration paths. While in Belgrade, the Secretary and High Representative encouraged the Government of Serbia to take concrete steps that will allow Serbia to progress on its path to EU membership. In Pristina, Secretary Clinton and Baroness Ashton encouraged government and opposition leaders to work together to strengthen rule of law and fight corruption, which are critical to EU membership.
Croatia will join the European Union next year, after having become a NATO member in 2009. In Zagreb, the Secretary applauded Croatia as a model for nations around the world that are making the difficult transition to democracy. As the Secretary rightfully recognized, Croatia has taken great strides to combat corruption and uphold the rule of law, from prosecuting domestic war crimes cases to reforming its justice sector. The people of Croatia made a decision to overcome the wars and destruction of the 1990s and rebuild their country, and the United States has been proud to stand with them for more than 20 years.
In Albania, Secretary Clinton helped mark an important milestone -- 100 years of Albanian independence. Addressing the Albanian Parliament, the Secretary highlighted the United States' enduring commitment to the country. After World War I, President Woodrow Wilson defended Albanian's independence and helped stop the country from being partitioned. Since then, even through fifty year of harsh communist rule, the United States' commitment to Albania has been steadfast. The Secretary applauded the resolve of the Albanian people to have come so far since communism, but also highlighted the hard work ahead as Albania seeks to join the EU, including bipartisan resolve to implement rule of law and fight corruption, and to hold free and fair parliamentary elections in 2013.
Secretary Clinton also telephoned other regional leaders after she returned to Washington. She applauded Montenegro's Prime Minister on the progress made on both the NATO and EU tracks of Montenegro's integration goals. Similarly, with President Ivanov of Macedonia the Secretary expressed disappointment for not being able to visit on this trip, and reiterated U.S. support for Macedonia's membership in NATO and the European Union.
Secretary Clinton also spoke with Prime Minster Jansa of Slovenia, the first country from the former Yugoslavia to join both NATO and the European Union. They discussed ongoing economic reform efforts, and our joint goal of furthering Euro-Atlantic integration for the Balkan region.
As someone who works on issues related to the Balkans every day, I know all too well the challenges that the region faces. But, I'm also encouraged by the great progress that has been made and the opportunities that are still yet to be realized for the people of this region.