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View All Transcripts: Ask the Ambassador | Ask the State Department

Welcome to "Ask the Ambassador" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to U.S. Ambassadors around the world.

Ambassador Michael C. Polt, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia, discussed U.S.-Serbia relations, democracy and security in the Balkans, and Serbia's future as a partner in Europe and in Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Michael C. Polt, U.S. Ambassador to Serbia
Michael C. Polt
U.S. Ambassador to Serbia
Biography
Event Date: 09/22/2006
Petrit from Manchester, New Hampshire writes:

I'm an Albanian from Kosovo and also a U.S. citizen. Will the United States recognize Kosovo as an independent country by the end of this year? Thank you.

Ambassador Polt:

Petrit, thank you for your question. The United States and its partners in the Contact Group (Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, and Russia) have long said that a solution to the future status of Kosovo should be based on compromise and dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina. The negotiation process is ongoing, and I believe that constructive dialogue can lead to a solution that will work towards ensuring a prosperous and bright future for all of the people of Kosovo and of the region. The United States would like to see such a solution by the end of this year.


Kemal from Grand Rapids, Michigan writes:

Mr. Ambassador: What specific challenges does Serbia face now that even Montenegro declared its independence and where do you see the country [Serbia] in five years taking into consideration current political situation)? Thank you.

Ambassador Polt:

Kemal, you are asking a question that many Serbian citizens are also asking themselves. The peaceful, democratic and transparent manner in which the referendum on Montenegro's independence was carried out was a positive signal for Serbia and its image. As Serbia faces the immediate challenges of cooperation with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and the ongoing negotiations on the future status of Kosovo, I have urged the country's leaders to keep in focus what is of greatest importance to their own people - the economy. Time after time, Serbians have told me that their highest priority is a secure job that will allow them to feed and educate their children. If Serbia keeps that priority in mind, five years from now the people of this country will be able to respond with a decisive "yes" to the question "are you better off today than five years ago?'.


Linda from Newbury writes:

My 3rd and 4th grade GT students want to know where Serbia is and what their population is?

Ambassador Polt:

Linda, my greetings to you and your students. Lots of very good information on Serbia can be found on the internet, and I encourage your students to learn more about this beautiful country and its warm and welcoming people. Serbia is located in South East Europe, and shares borders with Croatia, Bosnia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro and Albania, as well as Kosovo which is currently under the administration of the United Nations. According to the Serbian government's website (www.srbija.sr.gov.yu), Serbia's population at its last census in 2002 was 7,498,001, the majority of whom are ethnic Serbs however Serbia also has 37 other ethnic groups, including ethnic Albanians, ethnic Hungarians and Roma.

I would also like your students to know that we work very hard in Serbia to help Serbian students here learn about the United States. In the next year, we will send hundreds of young people to schools across the U.S. where they will study in local high schools and universities and learn all about the United States and our culture. Some will even live with American families! It is this kind of cross-cultural exchange that inspires cooperation among people around the world - whether they are 3rd and 4th graders, or Ambassadors and Presidents.


Joseph from Charlotte, North Carolina writes:

I am a retired federal agent, and am wondering how well trained the police are there.

Ambassador Polt:

Joseph, thank you for your question and your service to our country. Our Embassy in Belgrade enjoys excellent cooperation with Serbia's police and Ministry of Interior. Serbia's law enforcement community has some solid skills that can nevertheless benefit from contact and cooperation with law enforcement officials from the rest of Europe and the United States. We provide training for Serbian law enforcement officers by experts from the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, and other U.S. law enforcement agencies on issues such as combating transnational terrorism and organized crime. Of course, a culture of law cannot exist without legislative support. We are also working very closely with Serbia's prosecutors, judges and courts. Training by U.S. experts addresses witness protection, case management, combating corruption, and many other issues. For even more information on this, please visit our Embassy's website at: http://belgrade.usembassy.gov/


Sam from Boston Massachusetts writes:

Will the US recognize the right of self-determination for the people of Kosovo by allowing and observing a free and democratic referendum by the people of Kosovo on the final status issue?

Ambassador Polt:

Hello Sam. I see you are from Boston, one of the birthplaces of American democracy. My staff and I work very hard to inspire democracy in Serbia and throughout the region. Together with other members of the international community and in a process currently led by a United Nations negotiator, we plan to bring authorities in Belgrade and Pristina in Kosovo together to find a solution to the future status of Kosovo. Our main emphasis will continue to be on people's lives in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, specifically their ability to live with freedom, democracy and economic security, rather than on the drawing of borders.


Joshua from Havelock, North Carolina writes:

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

I have been interested in the former Yugoslavia for about a decade. Now that Montenegro has decided to go their own way, can the U.S. trust Serbia given its record in things such as the hunt for Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic plus Kosovo? Thanks for your time.

Ambassador Polt:

Joshua, you raise an important issue. Trust is the basis of any relationship, including a diplomatic relationship between two countries. We work very hard with the people and the leaders of Serbia to deepen this trust and to build a common future as partners in the Euro-Atlantic community. Mladic and all other indicted war criminals must be arrested and must face justice if Serbia is to be a true partner of the United States and a full member of a Europe whole, free and at peace.


Scott from Chelmsford, Massachusetts writes:

Mr. Ambassador - good day. With the end of the state union between Serbia and Montenegro, will the U.S. formally open an Embassy in Montenegro or will the Embassy in Belgrade represent the U.S. interests in Montenegro? Thank you.

Ambassador Polt:

Scott, following Montenegro's independence referendum, the United States formally recognized the Republic of Montenegro as a sovereign and independent state. The United States is considering Montenegro's proposal to begin a process of establishing diplomatic relations. The final decision will be made by the President of the United States, but I see no obstacle in the way of our establishing full friendly relations with Montenegro. Our office in the capital city of Podgorica currently represents U.S. interests in Montenegro. Our Embassy in Belgrade is no longer responsible for U.S. - Montenegro ties.

You might also be interested to know that we recently purchased land in Belgrade to build a new U.S. Embassy compound. This four-five year venture will establish a modern and efficient diplomatic platform for U.S. interests in Serbia and throughout the region as well as a safe and secure work environment for the American and Serbian staff of our Embassy.


Oliver from Washington, DC writes:

Is Serbia interested in joining the EU? If so, what steps have they taken towards that goal? Has the US offered any assistance to them?

Also, what are the Serbian sentiments regarding Montenegro's independence?

Ambassador Polt:

Thank you for your thoughtful questions, Oliver. The Serbian people do want to join the European Union and become a strong and stable partner in the international community. Since the overthrow of the Milosevic regime in October 2000, many positive steps have been taken by the country and its leadership to reach that goal. Unfortunately, Serbia's recent past is still a heavy burden to bear, and one of the most important issues, the capture and transfer of Bosnian Serb war criminals Ratko Mladic and other indicted war criminals to the International Court at the Hague, remains unresolved. Until those actions are taken, Serbia will not be able to take its rightful place among its European neighbors. The United States Government contines to provide assistance to the people of Serbia in the areas of economic development and strengthening democratic institutions and the rule of law. We are also supporting youth and other people-to-people exchanges and the reform of Serbia's military. U.S. assistance over the past six years has totalled several hundred millions of dollars!

With regard to your second question, however individual Serbians may feel about the independence of Montenegro, it is clear that as a whole, the people and government of Serbia have accepted the wishes of the Montenegrin people to be an independent state. I fully expect relations between Serbia and Montenegro to continue to be friendly and in fact to grow even closer as both countries move in the direction of European integration.


Matt from Australia writes:

Dear Mr. Ambassador,

Greetings. I'd like to know how you are specifically addressing the global rise in so-called anti-Americanism? As a U.S. citizen with extensive travel experience currently studying abroad, over the last few years I have experienced punctuated hostility and skepticism toward the U.S. government and populace generally. This was not apparent in my experience in those same countries in 2000, or previous. Please address specific actions the State Department is undertaking in this regard and also present any advice you would offer to U.S. citizens living abroad as to how to act as ambassadors for the United States. Thank you for your service.

Ambassador Polt:

Matt, thanks for your comments and questions and your willingness to make a difference on behalf of our country. As you know, the world's political landscape has changed greatly in past years, and certainly the United States, as well as many other countries, have faced tremendous challenges as well as opportunities during that time. The end of the Cold War freed so many peoples around the globe, particularly in Europe, but the global terrorist threat now endangers lives in nearly equal measure. The United States is committed to meeting these challenges and to taking advantages of opportunities to encourage the spread of freedom, tolerance, and democracy. That brings us into conflict with those who oppose a free world and sometimes leads to differences of opinion with even our friends and allies. Despite occasional differences in approach, our focus and that of our friends around the world is towards a commitment to work together.

I am aware of the skepticism with which some segments of the European public, for example, regard United States policy. But great friends can also have strong disagreements without questioning the foundation of the friendship. According to a German Marshall Fund poll released last September, an enormous majority of the European public -- 74 percent -- supports joint European-American action to advance democracy in the world. In fact, we work together every day to fight the global war on terrorism, prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons, to combat disease, to fight corruption, and to stop organized crime. For instance, for years the United States has helped support the South East European Cooperative Initiative, which serves as the mechanism for many European countries to share information and mount anti-crime operations. We have also worked closely with Austria during its EU Presidency this year to build on its desire to make more progress in the fight against organized crime and corruption, especially here in the Balkans. We will continue to pursue our government's public diplomacy strategy of "Engage, Exchange, Educate and Empower." Although every one of them is critical to helping people to better understand who we are as Americans, our exchange policy has been regarded as the single most successful public diplomacy initiative of the past 50 years. .

As you pointed out, Americans living abroad like you are some of our most important Cultural Ambassadors, exchanging ideas with people in your host country every day. My only advice to you would be to continue to share your views openly and without being defensive. Don't shy away from criticism, but meet it head on in a forthright manner. Point out that we are a diverse nation, used to building consensus, unafraid of changing our position if need be, but equally determined to follow through on difficult issues, despite opposition. Finally, I would suggest you tell our friends and critics around the world that we welcome an open exchange of views and differing opinions, but that we are most troubled when our friends don't just question our actions, but our motives. Our country is second to none in our commitment to the noblest values of mankind. Although we are only human in our actions, after 230 years of championing these values, we certainly don't deserve to be questioned as to our intent.


Milan from Belgrade, Serbia writes:

Your Excellency, please express your opinion about economy and investment climate in Serbia

Best regards.

Ambassador Polt:

you very much for writing Milan! You are addressing what I consider to be the number one issue in Serbia today. As an avowed optimist on Serbia's future, I believe that the economy and investment climate in Serbia continues to improve every day. American investors clearly agree, since, as you might know, the United States is the largest foreign investor in Serbia. American companies continue to look for opportunities to invest in this country, particularly as many state-owned Serbian companies undergo the difficult process of privatization. Many challenges remain. In order to continue to make Serbia a more competitive and attractive place to do business, the country's leadership must continue to unreservedly embrace the free market and take aggressive steps to fight corruption and assure a strong legal environment. Focus on these priority issues for Serbia will bring positive results for the economy and the people of your country.


Cathy from Illinois writes:

My daughter is traveling to Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia in October with a college group. Is it safe for her to travel freely?

Ambassador Polt:

Cathy, thanks very much for your question -- and the short answer is yes it is, but like anywhere in the world today it's necessary to take some routine precautions. This region of the world is a fascinating and even exotic one, with lots to offer the traveler. Serbia, for one, is so far relatively new to American tourists! This allows you to explore a beautiful country without the usual crowds. The people of Serbia are very welcoming to all visitors and a warm and hospitable people. Your daughter and her group will have fun in her travels. I do urge the group to go on the State Department's travel website for further information and routine cautions about all the countries your daughter and her friends plan to see: http://travel.state.gov


Maja from Belgrade, Serbia writes:

New U.S. Embassy in Belgrade is about to be built - and you promised 300 to 500 new work posts. In what directions will cooperation between the two countries develop? Does this mean promotion of cultural/educational relations? Although my visa is valid for 3 years, I would still like to go to the States without having to apply for one, so when (if ever) is this going to take place?

Ambassador Polt:

Maja, I thank you for your question, as it allows me to talk about the extensive cultural and educational relationship that already exists between Serbia and the U.S. I am very pleased that we are now on the path to construct our new Embassy in Belgrade. It will not only give an economic boost to the city, but more importantly, stand as a symbol of the importance of our relationship The people-to-people relationship between our two countries is one of the most important elements of our ties. We are constantly working to improve and expand exchanges among Serbians and Americans. Last year we inaugurated a new high school exchange program that sends students from all across Serbia to places far and wide in America. It was a resounding success. This year we are sending about 90 students, and hope to send even more in the next few years. We also plan to launch an undergraduate college student program, with similar aspirations. I would also like to start a U.S. Peace Corps program in Serbia that would bring hundreds of American young people as volunteers to work with and help people in your country.

In addition, our cultural programs in Serbia are as vibrant and diverse as our country is. The following is just a sample of some of the things we are doing over the next few weeks: we are supporting the two-week stay of a highly-acclaimed Broadway choreographer so that he can work with the dance company of the Terazije Theater as they prepare for the Serbian premiere of the hit Broadway play "Chicago;" we are bringing to Serbia six noted American writers (also of very diverse backgrounds and experiences), who will be participating in the 51st annual Belgrade International Book Fair, during which the United States is also the "host country;" and we will also be hosting grand openings of two American Corners, one in Subotica and one at the Dom Omladine in Belgrade, during which several renowned American jazz and rock groups will perform. There are many more things coming up this year, which we hope will only continue to lay the groundwork for further cooperation!

Your last question is a bit more complicated. I too look forward to a time when visa rules can be further relaxed and even eliminated. The pace of such changes will depend on the pace of economic development in Serbia and the improvement in the standard of living that we are working to help you achieve. As we keep working together to achieve these goals, I am sure you will notice an increase in your ability to travel to the United States.


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