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Secretary Michael R. Pompeo and Croatian Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic at a Press Availability

Remarks to the Press
Michael R. Pompeo, Secretary of State
Dubrovnik, Croatia
October 2, 2020

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Dear colleagues, representatives of the media, Prime Minister Plenkovic and State Secretary of the United States will now give their statements.

Mr. Plenkovic, the floor is yours.

PRIME MINISTER PLENKOVIC: (Via interpreter) Thank you and a very good afternoon to all. It is an extreme pleasure to be able to welcome and greet Mr. Pompeo, Secretary Pompeo, who is visiting Croatia in Dubrovnik after his, we can call it, Mediterranean tour which includes visits to Italy and other countries. It is a pleasure to state that we had an opportunity to exchange views on a number of topics related to our relations, relations between Croatia and the United States.

We are allies in the NATO, and generations of Croats, Croatian immigrants also represent a bridge between the United States and the Republic of Croatia. And during the past years, we worked with a great deal of dedication for Croatia to fulfill all prerequisites for the abolishing of the visa regime, and we believe that this year, and now on the 30th of September, we were below 3 percent of refused visas, and we hope that we shall be able to collaborate with the State Department, Homeland Security, and that Croatian citizens will not be required to have visas in some months. And we also discussed the agreement on the avoidance of double taxation, which represents an important agreement for both Croats and Americans. And we also tackled the issue of economic cooperation and business cooperation. Six hundred and fifty million dollars volume of the last year is a good foundation to build on, but leaves a broad scope for increase, and we believe that this will indeed happen.

COVID-19 unfortunately impacted upon the number of American tourists. We had 650,000 last year, and according to this year's data, it was under 35,000. And we believe that our joint struggle against the pandemic and the vaccine will reverse the trend and we shall be back on track and Dubrovnik will be connected not only to Philadelphia directly, but to other U.S. cities.

And another issue we discussed is the energy policy and the fact that as of January 2021, after many years and after, we can say, some hesitation, we'll get an LNG terminal. The vessel, the ship, is already on its way to Croatia. We believe it will start functioning as of January. This places us on the energy map of Europe and makes us a different destination with regards to energy policy.

There were international topics that we discussed: the situation in Southeastern Europe. We presented our views to State Secretary on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina and also now as we approach the 25th anniversary of the Dayton Agreement, and we advocate full equality of all three constituent nations and their equal representation in political institutions of Bosnia and Herzegovina in line with the Dayton Agreement itself. And from our point of view, it is, of course, the matter of equality of Croats as the least numerous nation.

And we also talked about the relations between the European Union and the United States, transatlantic issues. We also mentioned the purchase of aircraft – military aircraft. Once everything gets evaluated, Croatia will take its decision.

I thank Secretary Pompeo. We wish a fast recovery to President Trump and his wife in the light of the most recent news. Once again, I'm very happy that you were able to visit Croatia today here in the Adriatic, in the jewel of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) I now give the floor to Secretary Pompeo.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Great. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister. Thank you for the kind words and well wishes for President Trump and the First Lady. We all wish them a most speedy recovery.

Thank you too, Mr. Prime Minister. You came straight away from Brussels to be here with me. I'm deeply appreciative of you making your schedule work, and I think it's important. The relationship between our two countries is enormously important to the people of America, and I know the people here in Croatia as well. We love each other, we work together, we travel with each other, we fight together, and so it was an honor for me to be here today.

I want to thank too Mr. Foreign Minister for showing me this gorgeous city today. It's lovely to be standing here. I may stand up here even after the press conference is over and stay a while. It's not hard to see why Americans want to come here to visit.

Look, our relationship has come so far in the last three decades. Just as the walls of this city's historic fortress defended your people for centuries past, I know that our belief in democracy, free markets, the rule of law will keep your people and mine secure and prosperous for years to come. You reminded me of when the President traveled here and he spoke about the security of this place and the important relationship we have and our joint membership in NATO, and how we work together to protect our two peoples.

Mr. Prime Minister spoke to a number of topics which we addressed today. First and foremost, we heartily welcome Croatia's role as a leader and a force for stability, certainly in this region but throughout all of Europe as well. As president of the Council of the European Union this year, Croatia successfully facilitated U.S.-EU cooperation in response to the pandemic and saw the opening of EU access negotiations with North Macedonia and Albania back in March. Those are both exceptional achievements you should be very proud of.

In addition, the virtual Western Balkans summit Croatia convened in May, another step towards promoting necessary reforms and stability throughout the entire region. We discussed too further ways to encourage Bosnia and Herzegovina's Western integration today.

We agreed on the importance of strengthening our economic ties. Croatia has made welcome progress through important reforms, including your government's recent efforts to simplify the process for opening a business here. As this climate becomes more open, more competitive, the United States anticipates an increase in more than 100 U.S.-based companies already operating here, and I know we'll generate more wealth for each of our two peoples together.

You spoke about the Visa Waiver Program. It's been sitting out there a long time. We're going to get it done. I'm highly confident of that with our two teams working diligently together.

I want to thank you too. Your leadership extends in important ways throughout the energy sector as well. The government's funding of the Krk Island LNG project, which we have been proud to support, will achieve true energy security through diversity of sources. We look – welcome to its coming online here in the coming months.

We spoke about the Visa Waiver Program. I won't go back to that, but I know we'll get it done. We remain committed to working with Croatia to (inaudible) all of the remaining information sharing related to that.

Our NATO partnership is enduring. The work that we do together matters to each of our two peoples. We thank you so much for meeting your commitment to the alliance and your defense spending and for your contributions to NATO missions of your people, your great young men and women in Kosovo, in Afghanistan, in Lithuania and Poland, fighting and serving alongside the United States of America. Thank you. Thank you to your people for that too.

We also discussed how Croatia's adoption of American defense technologies can grow our strategic and economic relationship even more. And finally, as I've said around the world, the U.S. hopes its friends will exercise good diligence in investments that come into their country.

There are very bright days ahead for this relationship. On behalf of the United States, let's keep striving together as allies, as friends, as true partners. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) We thank Secretary Pompeo, and now for the questions. Dear colleagues, there is time for two questions. The first one to be asked by Nova TV, Ivana Petrovic. Will you approach the microphone, please?

QUESTION: (Via interpreter) Thank you, and good afternoon. Welcome, Secretary Pompeo. My name is Ivana Petrovic, Nova TV. I would like to ask about the situation in the region, in the Western Balkans, and in a small space that is in the heart of Europe and is not yet a part of Euro-Atlantic integrations. We witnessed the signing of the agreement in Washington between President Vucic and others, and the attempt to regulate the relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which is a burning issue for Croatia's neighborhood – a political issue and a security issue.

And now the situation in Montenegro has also changed, and this can all spill over to our first neighbor, Bosnia and Herzegovina. And this is a key issue for Croatian journalists, the issue of de-constitutionalization of Croats, and Croats should be and are an equal and constitutionally equal nation. This could turn into a major problem.

I would like to hear from you, what is the view of the United States and the opinion of the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina? The Dayton agreement brought peace; however, it did not finish the job. What is your angle regarding Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this small region this is – which is still outside Euro-Atlantic integrations, and is in the very heart of Europe?

So we would like you to comment on that. And perhaps you could also comment the possible purchase of F-16 aircraft, because this is also always a political matter. Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: (Inaudible) want to go first?


(Via interpreter) As regards the southeast of Europe and the policy of the Republic of Croatia, it has two directions. The first one is stability and security of all countries in the region, and the other is the support of Croatia to reform processes and the approaching of the neighboring countries to NATO, those who wish, and also to the European Union. And during our presidency of the European Union, we organized the Zagreb Summit, and the objective was 20 years after the first meeting which opened Croatian – Croatia's prospects for membership, we think it is our political task to support the region as we have perhaps more awareness of it than many others. And we need to secure our political interests – security, political, business, and those of the status of Croats living in those countries.

What matters a lot to us is the issue of Bosnia and Herzegovina 25 years after the date and agreement, and the Paris agreement. And we think that this country, which always turns towards Croatia, we have to secure rights to Croats living there, and we discussed this matter with the representatives of Croats, and we will step up the political dialogue because we want the spirit of Dayton to be a part of the election laws as well. I explained that to Secretary Pompeo today.

As regards the purchase of aircraft, we have the offers. We are now evaluating them, and once we reach the stage of being able to tackle the issue in more detail, we shall do so. Thank you.

SECRETARY POMPEO: The United States no longer leads from behind. We've been incredibly engaged in this region on the diplomatic front. You mentioned the work that we've done of Kosovo and Serbia. There's more work to be done there as well. It's a process, but we made a good first step, a good measure forward.

We've engaged in a serious way. We will continue to engage in a serious way with respect to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister both spoke with me at length about this. I can't possibly to do justice to the complexity there in just the couple minutes that we have. But know that the United States will remain engaged.

And that was really ask, was that the United States use its capacity, its diplomatic capacity to remain engaged and to ensure that we get an outcome there that derives a good thing for Europe, a good thing for the people of Croatia, a good thing for the people of the region so that when we get to the end of these processes – and you've seen this. You've seen the United States re-engage in the Arctic. You've seen us re-engage in Latin America. You've seen us engage in ways all across the world that we hadn't done for quite some time. We'll do it here as well.

And each time it's certainly in America's interests. We're working to make sure that we get American security and prosperity for sure, but in each time we are trying to leave these places in a way that are connected to the West – connected to our set of shared values where it is these Western ideas of freedom, the rule of law, democracy, the understanding about basic human rights and religious freedom that drive these processes forward.

I'm confident that's what the people of Croatia wants. It's what the Prime Minister spoke about. And the United States will use its tools, it's economic and diplomatic tools to try and drive these processes forward in a way that is serious and thoughtful and engages not only the capacities that the EU and NATO bring, but also those that the United States can uniquely bring to these conversations.

And as for the F-16, look, it's the sovereign decision of the leadership here to make a good decision. I'm always proud of the products that the United States can provide. I think they deliver a good value. But it's part of a larger context of the relationship between the United States and Europe where we will show up aiming to make sure that we deliver good security outcomes, good decisions both that are economically viable; that are financially affordable; that deliver the right security conclusions.

And the Croatian Government will make a good decision. I'm confident of that. We'll try to provide the financial support to the American tender that will deliver a viable option, and then we will leave to the people of Croatia and its government to make a good choice for its own people.

MODERATOR: For our second question, can we go to Abigail Williams with NBC?

QUESTION: Mr. Secretary, you've been traveling extensively in recent months to Southern and Eastern Europe, often discussing the sale of F-16s. What is the larger strategy for this? And does it portend a shift from or at least a message to your Western European allies that have been more critical of the Trump Administration?

And Mr. Prime Minister, Secretary Pompeo has referred to China's Belt and Road Initiative as a scheme to buy an empire. Do you agree that Beijing's investments in this region are predatory?

SECRETARY POMPEO: I'll take the first one since it was directed to me. I've been traveling in the region not for the purpose of discussing any particular arms sale. Indeed, the conversations have been anything but that narrow. They've been broad. They've been about the broader security relationships. They've been about the fundamental value sets that I share – that we share with other nations, whether that's nations in South America – the values – so I've traveled through Greece and to Cyprus, to Italy and now here in just the past few weeks.

We're confident that working alongside our NATO partners, our European partners, we can deliver good security outcomes. And every country will make its own choice in particular tactical decisions, but the world will be safer. The world will be more prosperous. The world will be more peaceful when we all work together towards these joint security outcomes. And when we do, we'll also deliver good economic outcomes for the entire region. That's – those are the reasons for my travel. It's why I'm going to continue in Asia next week.

PRIME MINISTER PLENKOVIC: Thank you very much for the question regarding relations with China. As you know last year in spring exactly in Dubrovnik, we also had the visit of the Chinese Prime Minister Li. In Dubrovnik we had a meeting of the so called initiative China Plus 17. Greece joined that corollary of One Belt, One Road initiative and the policy.

China is a global actor. They were very smart to devise this format of the relationship and the political dialogue and the economic framework with the countries of Central and Eastern Europe.

To give you a very blunt example, as the Croatian Prime Minister in my first mandate I met the Chinese Prime Minister I think five or six times. In the normal calendar of our relationship, had there not been this format, this would have happened in our assessment over a period of at least 25 to 30 years. So this explains a little bit why there is a greater involvement and a greater presence of China in this part of Europe.

We are fully aware of all the aspects of this policy, and our objective is to have a level playing field when it comes to the – both the relationship between Croatia or the other members of the European Union, and China and its market, as well as the Chinese presence here, in accordance with the rules that exist on the global level and which put us in the same market position.

SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Prime Minister.

MODERATOR: (Via interpreter) Thank you, Mr. Plenkovic, Mr. Pompeo. This concludes today's meeting.

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