The US special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, said on Wednesday that the United States would not hesitate to use sanctions to send a strong message to corrupt and destabilizing actors in the region.
Escobar said that the leaders of the Western Balkans must work in the interest of the citizens, instead of for their personal and party interests.
“We will not hesitate to use sanctions or other mechanisms to send a strong message to corrupt and destabilizing actors,” Escobar said in an interview with Mina.
According to him, the identity policy, which divides and has hampered the region’s progress in the past, has done nothing in the interests of the people of the Western Balkans.
“The United States will be a partner to those who have a constructive rather than destructive approach to the future of this region, characterized by EU and NATO membership, as well as a dynamic and transparent economy,” Escobar said.
Escobar assessed that the Balkans is “the fastest growing region in Europe”, stating that the realization of that economic potential should be at the top of Montenegro’s priorities.
“It is very frustrating and counterproductive that politicians and other actors are exploiting identity themes to gain political points at the expense of economic progress and regional reconciliation,” Escobar said.
The US envoy added that this is a common tactic in the Western Balkans, where political leaders use historical divisions to “sow discord among voters and block the progress of states”.
“In order for Montenegro to make concrete progress on its Euro-Atlantic path, political leaders, civil society and all those who believe in the European future of the country must work together to create a civil society,” Escobar said.
He said that in such a society, religion, nationality and ethnicity will not determine whether someone feels a safe and equal member of the community.
“The most demanding part of my role is to witness the search for the enormous potential of the Western Balkans. “I really believe that Montenegro and the Western Balkans have the capacity to be the economic engine of Europe,” Escobar said.
Asked how he views the Memorandum signed by the Civic Movement URA, Civis, the Socialist People’s Party and minority parties, Escobar said the United States has no official position on the political deal.
“Nevertheless, we support those who are for a sovereign, inclusive and democratic Montenegro, which is positioned in Euro-Atlantic institutions,” Escobar said.
Asked whether all political actors in Montenegro share those values, he said no.
“I would say no. “In Montenegro, as in other countries in the region, we are once again witnessing the damage caused by actors who cynically manipulate identity issues for their own goals,” Escobar told the Mina agency.
Escobar said he hoped political parties would put identity issues aside and work together on concrete aspects important to the public, including the fight against coronavirus, economic growth and the fight against corruption.
Asked how he views the indications that the minority government will resolve the political crisis in Montenegro, the US diplomat said that it is not the job of the United States to determine the composition of the government, but that Montenegrin voters are doing it.
“As a friend, partner and NATO ally, we want for Montenegro what most of its citizens want – a secure and prosperous future, in which the country will get a well-deserved place within the EU,” Escobar said.
He also said that Montenegro can boast of a high level of education, incredible natural beauty and a strong civil sector.
“As always, the United States is ready to support Montenegro in reaching its full potential,” Escobar said.