Mullen Arrives in Belgrade for Talks With Serb Leaders
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
BELGRADE, Serbia, Oct. 20, 2008 Navy Adm. Mike Mullen today became the first chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to visit this European capital.
The chairman is visiting the largest nation of what once was Yugoslavia to work to improve American military-to-military relations with Serbia.
The United States was part of NATO’s bombing campaign against Serbia over Kosovo in 1999. The alliance operated under a U.N. mandate to force the government of Slobodon Milosevic to withdraw all military and paramilitary forces from Kosovo and allow foreign peacekeepers into the nation.
Buildings in downtown Belgrade still show signs of the bombing campaign.
Mullen arrived aboard an Air Force C-32 and was whisked to the American embassy, which itself is an example of the tension in U.S.-Serb relations. Following Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February, mobs set fire to the older portion of the building. Kosovo has great symbolic meaning to the Serbian people, and is regarded by many of them as an essential part of the nation.
Still, the Serbian leadership is committed to the West and is seeking to join the European Union. The nation is a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program – usually a steppingstone to alliance membership.
At the embassy, Mullen met with U.S. Ambassador Cameron Munter and the American country team. After the briefing, the chairman moved to Topchider Barracks for a full-honors arrival ceremony hosted by Serbia’s chief of defense, Gen. Zdravko Ponos. Mullen and Ponos met privately and then continued discussions over lunch.
The admiral then went to the Defense Ministry, where he met Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac. He is scheduled to have dinner with President Boris Tadic.