US mulling sanctions against Serbia over Russia arms deals

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Thomas Zerzecki, an envoy for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation attends a meeting with Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, in Belgrade, Serbia, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. Serbia’s foreign minister has expressed hope that the U.S. won’t introduce sanctions against the Balkan country as he met a U.S. official in charge of embargo against the states which purchase weapons from Russia. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Declaring they had “nothing to hide,” Serbian officials expressed hope on Friday that the U.S. wouldn’t punish the Balkan country with sanctions that it levies on states which buy weapons from Russia.

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic made his remarks after talks in Belgrade with Thomas Zerzecki, an envoy for the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Security and Nonproliferation. The talks focused on Russia’s recent rapid arming of Serbia, including with a sophisticated air defense missile system.

Dacic said Serbia is pursuing a course of military neutrality between Russia and the West and the country “has nothing to hide.”

“We have no intention to create any problems in our relations with the United States,” Dacic said. “On the other hand, we have our own interests when it comes to the defense of our territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

Serbia remains a key ally of Russia but also wants to join the European Union. The country has pledged to stay out of NATO and refused to join Western sanctions against Russia over Moscow’s meddling in eastern Ukraine, where it’s helping pro-Russian rebels.

Zerzecki did not speak, but the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade had previously urged against “transactions with Russia that risk triggering sanctions.”

In a separate statement on Friday, the Embassy said that the purpose of the visit “was not to announce a decision on sanctions.”

“The United States welcomes the transparency exhibited by the Serbian government with regard to its intentions and activities,” the statement said.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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