ABOARD A U.S. MILITARY AIRCRAFT– Serbian and American military officials understand the two nations disagree about Kosovo, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said today, but they recognize the relationship has to be about more than just that nation. Navy Adm. Mike Mullen met with Serbian President Boris Tadic last night and discussed ways the U.S. and Serbian militaries can work together.

Tadic recognizes that there is more to the U.S.-Serbian relationship than their disagreement on Kosovo, Mullen said. The United States quickly recognized Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia in February.

Serbia has turned to the West, and is working to join the European Union. It is also a member of NATO’s Partnership for Peace program, often a stepping-stone to full membership in the alliance. The nation is working to eliminate the barriers to full integration in the European economy and the Euro-Atlantic community, the chairman said.

This includes energetically searching for Ratko Mladic and other war criminals from the Bosnian war.

“I get the sense that they are focused on the underpinning of the military-to-military [relationship] and a future that has them as members of the European Union and NATO,” Mullen said.

Serbia has a strong strategic commitment to keep tensions low and to make sure violence doesn’t break out over Kosovo, Mullen said. The United States and Serbia must continue to make progress in Kosovo, he said, and the next big way is to support the European Union Rule of Law Commission in Kosovo.

“There is so much focus on security and stability in Kosovo that everything is seen through the prism of Kosovo,” Mullen said. “We have got to look beyond Kosovo independence, because that isn’t the end of the importance of the region. We have to focus on the Balkans writ large. I’m mindful to focus on Serbia as Serbia affects the region, and not just how Serbia affects Kosovo.

“There has to be a balance there,” he said.

Mullen said he is pleased with the path of the military-to-military relationship between the United States and Serbia. “Part of that is the great relationship with the Ohio National Guard [as part of a Guard partnership program], but part of it is the general slope-up.”

The chairman said he’d like to see Serbian forces working alongside U.S. forces in actual operations. “You can only learn so much from training,” he said. “There’s always learning that goes on from a real-world operation.”

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