The following content is sourced from external partners. We cannot guarantee that it is suitable for the visually or hearing impaired.
FILE PHOTO: Serbian Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic speaks in Novi Sad, Serbia, March 18, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica(reuters_tickers)
By Aleksandar Vasovic
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Serbia and the United States agreed to step up efforts to bolster regional security including joint military and police training drills, Serbian Prime Minister and President-elect Aleksandar Vucic said on Monday.
Serbia is maintaining a balancing act between the West and Russia, its traditional Orthodox Christian and Slavic ally.
Although it wants to join the European Union, Belgrade has adamantly refused to join NATO which bombed it in 1999 during the war in Kosovo. In 2008, with the U.S. backing, Kosovo declared independence.
After meeting Republican Senator John McCain, who also chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, Vucic told reporters that the two sides will have "six or seven" joint training drills this year.
During his one-day visit to Serbia, McCain attended a training between country's elite SAJ police unit, a detachment of the U.S. Special Operations Command and a military unit from Slovenia, a ex-Yugoslav republic and now NATO member.
"I am sure Mosul and Raqqa will fall," McCain told a news conference speaking through an interpeter, referring to two Islamic State strongholds in Iraq and Syria. "Many people (seeking to do violence) may (then) come to Europe and the U.S. ... therefore joint drills are important," McCain said.
Vucic said the two also discussed regional stability, including talks between Serbia and Kosovo on normalising relations, and the political crises in ethnically divided Macedonia and Bosnia.
In 2016, Serbia conducted 206 joint military activities with the United States and NATO, and 17 with Russia. It will later this year participate in a training drill in Kazkhstan staged by the Russia-controlled Collective Security Treaty Organization.
(Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Jermey Gaunt)