THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, thank you all. Prime Minister Markovic, Prime Minister Zaev, Prime Minister Brnabic, Prime Minister Cerar, Prime Minister Plenkovic, Prime Minister Rama, , President Thaci, Minister Zvizdic, distinguished guests, it is my great honor to join you today to celebrate the progress of the Western Balkans here at this historic Adriatic Charter Summit. (Applause.)
The President of the United States, President Donald Trump, personally sent me here as a sign of our country’s enduring commitment to the Western Balkans.
It’s a special honor for me to be here today, as the very first Vice President of the United States to ever visit Montenegro.
It’s remarkable to think that Montenegro reclaimed its independence just 11 years ago. But while Montenegro may be a young country, this is a land with an ancient history, and we are grateful for your leadership and hospitality today, Mr. Prime Minister.
Montenegro’s culture and traditions have long enriched the continent of Europe as a whole. And the same can be said of all the countries represented here today.
The Western Balkans show the diversity of Western civilization — a beautiful mosaic of free countries and peoples — each with their own unique histories, cultures, languages and traditions and all of which deserve to be cherished, celebrated, and protected.
And the Adriatic Charter has played a leading role in bringing the Western Balkans into unity with Europe and alliance with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. And under President Trump, the United States of America will continue to support each of you as you pursue this future together. (Applause.)
The Adriatic Charter itself is a testament to the United States’ commitment to the Western Balkans, and to Europe as a whole.
Established in 2003, the Adriatic Charter serves our shared vision, and the United States of America remains committed to this day to a “Europe whole, free, and at peace.”
The charter began small — with the United States, Albania, Croatia, Macedonia as founding members — but today it’s grown to encompass the entire Western Balkans.
The charter now counts Montenegro and Bosnia and Herzegovina as members, and Serbia, Kosovo as observers, and we look forward to overcoming the obstacles for Kosovo to become a full member in the near future.
And let there be no doubt: The Adriatic Charter is fulfilling its purpose to bring the states of the Western Balkans closer together into a most successful defense alliance in history, NATO itself.
Eight years ago, Albania and Croatia acceded to NATO, joining Slovenia, which is represented here today. And less than two months ago, NATO proudly welcomed the newest member of our historic alliance — Montenegro.
I actually had the privilege to personally congratulate Prime Minister Markovic at the White House on that very historic day. Mr. Prime Minister, on behalf of President Trump, and here with other NATO allies, allow me to thank you for your leadership and allow me to congratulate you and the people of Montenegro once again for successfully acceding to NATO. (Applause.)
My friends, Montenegro’s accession proves that NATO’s open door remains open. And so will it always be for those European countries that share our values, contribute to the common defense, and strive to achieve security, prosperity, and freedom for their people.
And to all the leaders gathered here, let me assure you: Under President Donald Trump, the United States will continue to stand with you as you pursue your European future together.
Whether your future is in NATO, the European Union, or both, the United States supports you — because either path will strengthen Europe. And as President Trump said during his historic trip to Poland, in his words: “A strong Europe is a blessing to the West and to the world.”
And by bringing the Adriatic ever closer to the Atlantic, we can ensure a brighter future not only for the Western Balkans, but for the West itself.
Under President Trump, the policy of the United States will always be to put the security and prosperity of America first. But as the President has made clear, and I hope as my presence here today demonstrates, America First does not mean America alone.
The bond between the United States and Europe has been, is now, and always will be essential — for we are stronger together than we will ever be apart.
During his visit to Poland last month, President Trump challenged all our allies and partners in Europe, and really all who cherish freedom, to renew in his words our “commitment of will” to confront the shared challenges that we face.
And that commitment begins with you and the actions that you, the leaders of this region, take in the days and years ahead.
This is a time of great opportunity for each of your countries. Virtually every state in the Western Balkans has recently held free and fair national elections, with the participation of all political parties, and with a result that reflected the will of your people.
This is a historic accomplishment — and President Trump and I congratulate each of you. You belong to a new generation of Balkan leaders, and this is a historic moment for progress in the Western Balkans. And so I urge you with great respect to make the most of this moment.
You have the opportunity to settle grievances of the past and bring people of different backgrounds and beliefs together in pursuit of the common good. You can strengthen your economies and open the pathway to prosperity for your people through tax and regulatory reform. You can tackle corruption and build accountable and transparent governments which will deliver on the highest aspirations of your people and build confidence among those who would invest in the prosperity of your future.
The task before you requires courage.
But your fellow citizens have placed their trust in you. They believe in your ability to help them realize their dreams for a more prosperous and peaceful future. And so do we.
As they say in Montenegro, “In good times, it’s easy to be good, but in adversity, heroes are recognized.”
So today with great respect, I urge each of you to be the heroes your people deserve — unlock the vast potential of your countries and realize our shared dream of a Europe whole, free, and at a peace.
Under President Trump, be assured, the United States will continue to support the Western Balkans as you take these important steps toward good government, democratic reform, and the rule of law.
We’ll continue to support the Dayton Accords and the principles they represent, and we’re committed to dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo to fully normalize relations between them.
And throughout the Western Balkans, the United States will partner with your citizens to foster a vibrant civil society, a free and independent press, and an economy that opens opportunity for all who seek it.
And we must never forget that security is the foundation of our prosperity, and the United States I can assure you will continue to partner with each of you as you promote security in the Western Balkans and beyond.
We’ll continue to forge strong relationships between your armed forces and the Armed Forces of the United States, training alongside you and partnering with you to professionalize your militaries even further.
We’ll continue to build your capability to operate alongside NATO and other Western forces. And the United States will partner with you to reduce your dependency on legacy Soviet and Russian military hardware.
But as President Trump has made clear, your defense requires your commitment as much as ours. Collective defense is the essential foundation of the NATO Alliance, and President Trump has made it clear that the United States expects all our allies, and all who would wish to join our alliance, to meet the minimum commitment of spending at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their own national defense.
This investment is necessary to keep our solemn pledge that an attack on one is an attack on all. This oath requires action, and every NATO member and NATO aspirant must renew their commitment to our common defense — and they must renew it now.
We must shoulder this responsibility together because the dangers we face are growing and changing every day. Throughout my trip, I have met with the brave men and women in uniform of the Armed Forces of the United States and our allies and our strategic partners. I’m always inspired. They’re the best of us. And along with so many of your citizens, in Europe and across the wider world, they stand on the front lines of freedom. Their service and their sacrifice keep our families safe and our freedom strong.
These heroes stand guard at a pivotal time, for our world is now a more dangerous place than at any point since the collapse of communism a quarter of a century ago.
As President Trump said in Poland, we are now confronted by adversaries, as he said, from inside and out, from the South and the East, that “threaten to undermine our values and erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that make us who we are.”
And no enemy is more widespread than the global menace of radical Islamic terrorism. Terrorism threatens us all, from the Western Balkans, to Western Europe, to the United States of America.
It was less than one year ago that many of your countries disrupted the ISIS-inspired plans for coordinated attacks in Albania, Kosovo, and Macedonia.
The United States is grateful — grateful for your contributions in the Global Campaign to Defeat ISIS, and in the fight against terror in Afghanistan. Our shared sacrifices on the field of battle have only brought us closer and strengthened our commitment to freedom.
And make no mistake about it: President Trump and the United States of America under his leadership will not rest, we will not relent until we hunt down and destroy ISIS at its source so it can no longer threaten our people, our allies, or our way of life. (Applause.)
As our militaries and coalition forces drive ISIS from Iraq, and soon from its very existence, your countries will continue to face the danger of foreign fighters returning home from the Middle East, with the singular goal of sowing chaos and taking innocent lives.
We must be vigilant to this threat, a cancer in our countries, and we must be prepared to cut it out before it can fester and grow.
Beyond terrorism, President Trump has called attention to in his words “powers that seek to test our will, undermine our confidence, and challenge our interests.”
In recent days we’ve seen the completion of Venezuela’s collapse into dictatorship. Not only did the regime hold a sham National Assembly election, but on Monday night, the regime seized two prominent members of the opposition, Leopoldo Lopez and Antonio Ledezma, who are being held illegally as we speak.
President Trump said yesterday, “The United States condemns the actions of the Maduro dictatorship,” and that we will hold Maduro personally responsible for the health and safety of these two brave men.
The United States calls on all who cherish freedom to condemn the Maduro regime for its abuse of power and its abuse of its own people. Venezuela deserves democracy, and the Venezuelan people deserve freedom.
Beyond the Western Hemisphere, over the past week the world also witnessed, once again, the grave and growing threat posed by missile capabilities in the hands of dangerous regimes in North Korea and Iran.
Both regimes conducted provocative launches over a 24-hour span. Their actions have brought them closer to threatening our partners in their regions, our transatlantic alliance, and the American homeland itself.
In these times of widening threats and provocations, more than ever before, we must stand together in defense of all that we hold dear. We all have a vital role to play — for all the countries gathered here today loom large in the tapestry of freedom.
Here, in Europe, we must be resolute and uncompromising in the face of aggression from an unpredictable country that casts a shadow from the east, as well.
As you well know, 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.
Russia’s intentions were laid bare over the past year when Moscow-backed agents sought to disrupt Montenegro’s elections, attack your parliament and even attempt to assassinate your Prime Minister to dissuade the Montenegrin people from entering our NATO Alliance.
President Trump has called clearly on Russia to “cease its destabilizing activities.” And I can assure you: The United States of America rejects any attempt to use force, threats, or intimidation in this region or beyond. The Western Balkans have the right to decide your own future, and that is your right alone. (Applause.)
The United States will continue to hold Russia accountable for its actions, and we call on our European allies and friends to do the same. In a further sign of our commitment, very soon, President Trump will sign legislation to strengthen and codify the United States’ current sanctions against Russia.
Let me be clear: The United States prefers a constructive relationship with Russia based on mutual cooperation and common interests. But the President and our Congress are unified in our message to Russia — a better relationship and the lifting of sanctions, will require Russia to reverse the actions and conduct that caused sanctions to be imposed in the first place.
Finally, in these challenging times, President Trump has reminded us all that our fight, in his words, “begins with our minds, our wills,” and our very souls.
So let us steel our minds, strengthen our wills, and refresh our souls. For if we do, as the President has said, “the West will never, ever be broken. Our values will prevail. Our people will thrive, and our civilization will triumph.”
My friends in the Western Balkans, we gather at this historic Adriatic Charter Summit with the weight of history on our shoulders.
For 15 years, the United States has helped guide your countries as you walk the path toward peace at home, unity in Europe, and allied for our common defense. You need only seize the day. Take this opportunity, through your actions, to draw even closer to each other and to the West; complete the unfinished business of the Western Balkans; and finish the journey that we started together so many years ago.
And as I say these words of admonition, I have faith — I have faith you will succeed. We’ll succeed together — because I have faith in strong and good people of this region. I have faith in their aspiration and determination to embrace freedom for this generation and the next. And I have faith in the beautiful tapestry of belief that I have seen as I’ve traveled across Europe in recent days.
I’ve seen many creeds, many rich and ancient traditions, but in them all, I’ve witnessed the power of faith to stir the soul and rekindle and renew the spirit. For as the Good Book says, where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
Ours is a shared future of security and prosperity. Ours is a shared future of liberty and freedom. United in this great “community of nations,” I know we’ll face that future together.
And with your help, and with God’s help, we will achieve the vision of a Europe whole, free, and at peace.
And so I say with confidence: With the courage of your people, with the commitment of this brave, new generation of Western Balkan leaders, with the strength of President Donald Trump and the United States of America, and with firm reliance on Almighty God, the future for the Western Balkans, the West itself, and the future of freedom is bright — brighter than ever before. And we will meet that future as allies and friends together.
Thank you. God bless you. God bless all your nations and may God bless the United States of America. (Applause.)