BELGRADE, Serbia — A senior U.S. official said Wednesday that the United States wants to help solve problems in Western Balkans, a troubled European region where Russia has sought to increase its influence.
“I see a tremendous window of opportunity for all of us,” Wess Mitchell, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, said in Belgrade, the Serbian capital. “A window of opportunity to make progress, resolve issues that have held Western Balkans back for too long.”
Mitchell visited Macedonia and Kosovo before coming to Serbia. Macedonia has been locked in a name dispute with neighboring Greece while Serbia has refused to recognize the declaration of independence by its former province of Kosovo.
These and other disputes have prevented the full stabilization of the Balkans following years of crisis and wars in the 1990s. Fears of renewed instability have been fueled amid mounting Russian interests in the region, particularly in Serbia.
Mitchell urged the Balkan nations to take the opportunity to resolve the remaining disputes with Western help, including the European Union’s renewed commitment to accept new members from the region in the future.
“That is a job for all of us,” Mitchell said after talks with Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic. “Now is the time to work together to solve these problems for the benefit of future generations.”
Vucic called for a compromise in reaching an agreement with Kosovo, which is a key condition for his country’s eventual EU membership.
The U.S. and most EU nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, while Russia has backed Belgrade in its refusal to do so, maintaining a strong influence in Serbia despite its proclaimed EU bid.
Mitchell said “the United States wants to help find a big-picture solution” for Kosovo.
“We are ready to listen, help and be creative,” he said.