U.S. Vice President Mike Pence pledged to help eliminate obstacles to Kosovo becoming a full member of NATO, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said after meeting with Pence on August 2 at the end of his tour of Eastern Europe.
Thaci wrote on Facebook that the two leaders had a "very friendly and also constructive meeting" on the sidelines of an Adriatic Charter summit in Montenegro. He said he told Pence that Kosovo remains a U.S. ally "without compromise in fighting any form of extremism, radicalism, and terrorism."
Thaci added that "American leadership is irreplaceable for our Euro-Atlantic aspiration."
Pence also met on August 2 with Serbia's new Prime Minister Ana Brnabic, the first openly gay leader in the conservative country. Brnabic's office said she sought Pence's support for Serbia's bid to join the European Union and the two discussed regional stability and bilateral ties.
In an address at the summit, Pence urged Western Balkans leaders to strive to overcome their differences as they move to ally themselves with the EU and NATO.
"You belong to a new generation of Balkan leaders and this is a historic moment for progress in the Western Balkans," he said. "I urge you with great respect to make the most of this moment."
Earlier, Pence said the United States will continue to hold Russia “accountable for its actions” and pledged American support for countries of the region in their efforts to pursue a “European future."
“We must be resolute and uncompromising in the face of aggression from an unpredictable country that casts a shadow from the East,” Pence told a summit of the Adriatic Charter in Montenegro on August 2.
“Russia continues to seek to redraw international borders by force, and here in the Western Balkans Russia has worked to destabilize the region, undermine your democracies, and divide you from each other and from the rest of Europe,” Pence said.
“The United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, or intimidation in this region or beyond,” he added. “The Western Balkans have the right to decide your own future.”
The gathering in Podgorica was attended by heads of states and governments of Albania, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Earlier on his Montenegrin trip, Pence said the future of the Western Balkans is “in the West." The visit is his final stop of an Eastern European tour aimed at reassuring U.S. allies in the region in the face of an emboldened Russia.
"We truly believe the future of the Western Balkans is in the West," Pence said ahead of a summit with Montenegrin and regional leaders in Podgorica on August 2.
"We look forward to reaffirming the commitment of the United States to build the relationships that will strengthen the ties between the European community, the Western Balkans, and the United States of America," he told reporters.
He also called Montenegro’s accession to NATO in June a "historic achievement" for the country and "a sign of the strength of this country 10 years after its independence" from former Yugoslavia.
He was speaking alongside Montenegrin Prime Minister Dusko Markovic, who said the small Balkan nation had "irrevocably" tied itself with the West and its values when it joined NATO.
He said his country's ascension to NATO "will have a long-term positive effect and encourage our neighbors who are walking the same or a similar path."
Markovic added that countries of the Western Balkans should be proactive in shaping their future "rather than waiting for others to do it for us."
At a dinner with Montenegrin President Filip Vujanovic, Markovic, and other Montenegrin leaders on August 1, Pence said his trip to the nation of 620,000 is "testament to the fact that America has no small allies -- only strong allies."
"Your courage, particularly in the face of Russian pressure, inspires the world, and I commend you for it," he said.
Pence arrived in the tiny Balkan nation, NATO's newest member, after a visit to Georgia, where he denounced Russia's "aggression" and "occupation" of the Caucasus country's territory.
"America stands with Georgia," Pence said at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Giorgi Kvirikashvili.
The Kremlin recognized Georgia's breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries after fighting a five-day war against Tbilisi in 2008. Russia maintains thousands of troops in the two regions.
"The United States supports Georgia's sovereignty and territorial integrity within its internationally recognized borders," Pence said. "And under President Donald Trump, the United States of America will object to any claim at any time by any nation that undermines this enduring principle."
Pence also reiterated that the United States "strongly" supports the Caucasus country's aspirations to become a NATO member.
Georgian President Giorgi Margvelashvili said during a troop review with Pence at the Vaziani military air base outside Tbilisi that Russian troops remain deployed as occupiers in Abkhazia and South Ossetia where they are supporting separatist leaders.
"Some dozen kilometers away there are barb wire fences built and installed to prohibit citizens of my country from free movement," Margvelashvili said. "Just a few kilometers [from here], people are persecuted just because they are Georgians."