Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman continues to travel to locales long ignored by Israeli foreign ministers, leaving Monday on a four-day trip to Serbia, Croatia and Montenegro, countries never before visited by an Israeli foreign minister. Lieberman's trip to the Balkan states comes on the heels of a trip earlier this month to Africa, the first time an Israeli foreign minister went there in 18 years, and two months after his trip to South America, the first visit by an Israeli foreign minister to that continent in 22 years. Lieberman said in a statement that his Balkan swing constituted the continued implementation of his policy of trying to develop new directions for Israeli foreign policy, something he announced soon after taking office. The foreign minister's extensive travels have also been made possible by the fact that, for all intents of purposes, he has removed himself from the diplomatic process with the Palestinians. Lieberman's rationale for doing this has included the following: that as a resident of the small settlement of Nokdim there was a conflict of interest in his involvement in the process; he did not believe in the process but didn't want to stand in the way of others who did; he felt the Foreign Ministry has spent too much time and energy in the past on this issue, at the expense of developing ties with other parts of the world. "The Balkan states, as well as the African and South American states I visited recently, did not receive adequate attention in the past," Lieberman said in his statement Monday. "My visit to the region is intended to strengthen the bilateral relations between the countries and to reinforce and develop the economic relationship, which will also contribute to Israel's international standing." Israeli trade with Serbia, for instance, has skyrocketed in recent years, going from $7 million in 2003 to $50m. in 2007, with Israeli investment in Serbia going from $50m. to $750m. during the same time period. Israel is not the only country taking increased interest in Serbia, with French, Italian and German investors also very active in the country. One of the common denominators of Lieberman's trips to South America, Africa and now the Balkans is the attempt to combat Iran, which has made recent inroads into each region. Finding it more difficult to secure economic partners in western Europe, the Iranians have turned their attention to the Balkans, and this is one of the topics that will surely be discussed during Lieberman's meetings there. Diplomatic officials said it was important for Lieberman to make the visit in the name of reciprocity, since Croatian and Serbian presidents, prime ministers and foreign ministers have visited Israel on a number of occasions over the past few years. The widespread assessment in Jerusalem is that eventually these countries will be granted admission into the EU, and that it was important for Israel to establish close and friendly ties with them beforehand, as was the case with countries like Poland, the Czech Republic and Romania, now among Israel's strongest supporters in the EU. Lieberman is scheduled to meet in Zagreb Tuesday with Croatian President Stjepan Mesic, Prime Minister Jadranka Kosor and Foreign Minister Gordan Janderkovic. He will travel to Belgrade on Wednesday, and hold talks there at the same level, and the following day will go to Montenegro and meet with the president, prime minister and foreign minister there as well. Lieberman is scheduled to return to Israel Thursday evening.