NATO-led Kosovo Force (KFOR) will remain in Kosovo an Metohija “as long as needed,” says US General Curtis Scaparrotti.
The supreme Allied commander Europe of NATO Allied Command Operations, who was in Belgrade on Wednesday for meetings with Serbia’s top state and military officials, told Tanjug in an exclusive interview NATO was concerned by the proposal to transform the Kosovo Security Force into a Kosovo army without constitutional changes.
However, he “welcomed the readiness of all communities living there to engage in a debate about the future of the Kosovo Security Force (KSF).”
According to him, the KSF is “increasingly recruiting members from all communities, and NATO will continue to support its development as an even more professional and more efficient force within the current mandate.”
“However, if the mandate of the Kosovo Security Force changes, in the way that has been proposed, NATO will have to reconsider its level of engagement, especially in terms of building the capacity of those forces,” he said, according to Tanjug.
The NATO commander for Europe also pointed out that Serbia and NATO are facing common security challenges, and that Serbia is making “a significant contribution to regional and international security, which is crucial for the stability of the Western Balkans.”
When it comes to the country’s policy of military neutrality, Scaparrotti reiterated that the alliance “fully respects” this and “wants to deepen mutual relations.”
Training and exercises with NATO and individual members of the alliance help Serbia’s military personnel to participate effectively and safely in UN and EU missions, the general added, and said one example was the Center for Atomic, Biological and Chemical Defense of Serbia, recognized in 2013 as a training and education partnership center that is open to allies and partners.
Asked if he thought that Serbia would be “safer” if it joined NATO – the US general said that NATO’s door remains open to “all democracies in Europe who share the alliance’s values and are able to share the responsibilities and obligations that come with membership.”
As for whether “Russia’s influence in the region” was a topic of discussion in Belgrade – and whether he was among those who believe that the Serbian-Russian Humanitarian Center was in fact “a spy center”, Tanjug said that Scaparrotti “replied indirectly”:
“Serbia has every right to choose its own path, as do its neighbors. Partnership and cooperation with the alliance is important for Serbia, the whole region and for NATO. NATO has a strategic interest in the Western Balkans’ stability and prosperity, and therefore we work closely with all countries in the region.”
And when asked whether NATO was planning to establish its own “humanitarian or other center” on Serbian soil – something that has recently been speculated about, and addressed by top officials – Scaparrotti said that Serbia and the alliance were “working together in many ways,” citing as an example that last year, NATO set up a new fund to help Serbia destroy almost 2,000 tons of surplus ammunition.