Washington, DC -- On March 16th, the NFCA delegation of Steve Rukavina, Joe Foley and Vlatka Persin met with US Ambassador to Croatia, Julieta Valls Noyes, at the State Department in Washington, DC. It was a very informative sixty minute discussion covering the key elements of U.S.-Croatia relations from what the US Ambasador describes eloquently from a security, prosperity and shared values perspective. It was an ideal time to compare notes after the Ambassador’s first eighteen months in Croatia and it was impressive to hear about many new initiatives that she has embraced and implemented.
Ambassador Noyes shared the announcement about the creation of a U.S.-Croatia Innovation Council in order to continue the exchange of ideas on innovation and technology between the two partners and in commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Ron Brown tragic crash. On April 5, Amb. Noyes, the Deputy Director of the Croatian Chamber of Economy (HGK), and State Secretary Mario Antonić from the Ministry of Economy will launch the Innovation Council in Zagreb. The World Chicago Cultural Exchange Program's entrepreneurship organization will send three American partipants to the Council meeting.
On April 11th in Zagreb, the Ambassador is hosting a special event celebrating 25 years of U.S.-Croatia relations and she was glad to hear that the NFCA accepted her invitation to participate. Zvonko Labas, NFCA’s Executive Vice President will attend the Zagreb event and will proudly join President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and Prime Minister Andrej Plenkovic and many other dignitaries and VIP guests from the USA.
The Ambassador thanked the NFCA for helping publicize the five scholarship opportunities in Ron Brown’s name, offered by the Zagreb Institute of Economics and Management (ZSEM) and those winners will be announced this spring.
On the Southeast Europe regional security topic, the Ambassador applauded Croatia’s leadership and participation in NATO operations. She shared that the Republic of Croatia is working to raise its present 1.2 % share of its GDP on military spending and move it closer to the 2% that all NATO countries committed to reach at recent NATO Summits. There was a brief discussion about Montenegro’s membership in NATO, which is very close to being approved by the U.S. Senate. Recently, Croatia committed to send troops to Lithuania as part of a NATO's Enhanced Forward Presence operation. Croatia continues to maintain forces in Afghanistan and Kosovo, as does the United States.
There was a brief discussion about the on-going challenges and issues in Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). The Croatian Americans presented the Ambassador a few details about the discriminatory elements of electoral laws in BiH that affect the BH Croat community. The NFCA group felt it was necessary to share with this Southeastern European-based American diplomat, the significance of electoral law changes with huge geopolitical implications before the 2018 elections there.
The Ambassador was pleased to hear more details about the Congressional Croatian Caucus (CCC) and was scheduled to meet with the new Co-Chair, Congresswoman Nanette Barragan (44th Congressional District-CA) later that day. She was pleased to hear about past and future events envisioned for this 45 member caucus which has an interest in the Republic of Croatia and Southeast Europe.
On the business prosperity side, the Ambassador mentioned that she was guardedly optimistic that progress was being made with the floating Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) terminal and she stressed how important that project is from a regional energy security perspective. The Ambassador shared details about a new IBM call center in Zagreb and mentioned that its significance went beyond the total number of jobs. She talked about the upcoming bid for the building of the Peljasac bridge and that the European Union was a partner in this project. The Ambassador was scheduled to meet with the Department of Treasury, too, to discuss Croatia's wish to negotiate a Double Taxation treaty. The Ambassador also shared that she has created a Women’s Entrepreneurship Project and that Croatian women were very supportive overall.
The NFCA delegation heard many details of Croatia’s evolving role from a geopolitical perspective in SE Europe. The American diplomat said she hoped Croatia would continue to build on its role model leadership within SE Europe, both from a NATO and EU perspective. The Ambassador graciously invited the NFCA officers to visit her when they travel to Croatia later this year. She was pleased to hear that the NFCA and Croatian Americans would be meeting with Foreign Minister Davor Stier the following week.