Trump steps in to secure a Kosovo – Serbia deal, overshadowing failed EU efforts in the Balkans

Aleksandar Vucic, Donald Trump, hashim Thaci (Left to right)
Aleksandar Vucic, Donald Trump, hashim Thaci (Left to right)

Prishtina, Kosovo | 19 Dec 2018 (Tirana Echo) – US President Donald Trump would welcome the signing of an historic deal between Kosovo and Serbia in Washington as it moves in to sideline the EU mediated Prishtina-Belgrade peace talks.

In a letter sent to Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaçi, US President Trump says that both Kosovo and Serbia should make use of this unique chance of reconciliation, referring to the latest efforts by both Kosovan and Serbian leaders to reach a deal between the two countries.

Trump’s intervention comes as EU mediated talks between Prishtina and Belgrade have come to a deadlock, with EU leaders increasingly unable to advance peace talks.

It also confirms the growing frustration from Washington that the European Union has not been able to produce more tangible progress in the Balkans as the region slides into further economic uncertainty and is increasingly vulnerable to ‘external’ influences from Russia, China and Turkey.

Trump praised the latest signals for a possible deal from both countries and hinted such an accord could be celebrated in Washington under US supervision.

We stand ready to assist your efforts to reach an agreement that balances the interests of both Kosovo and Serbia. Such an agreement is within reach. I look forward to hosting you and President Aleksandar Vucic at the White House to celebrate what would be and historic accord”, – Trump told Thaçi in his letter.

Trump’s unexpected intervention comes weeks after both Thaçi and Vucic recently ‘flirted’ with a controversial land swap deal which could culminate with Kosovo’s recognition by Serbia, which still regards it as its  province.

Following the suggestions of a territorial exchange back in August, White House national-security adviser John Bolton saidThe United States will not oppose a possible exchange of territories between Kosovo and Serbia as long as both Prishtina and Belgrade agree to a ‘mutually satisfactory settlement’.

The offer to host both Thaçi and Vucic in at the White House comes also as a tit-for-tat set of exchanges is currently going on between Brussels and Prishtina, after Kosovo’s government introduced 100% tariffs on Serbian goods entering Kosovo, in retaliation to Serbian efforts to block Kosovo’s membership at the Interpol.  

Kosovan citizens and its political class have been increasingly frustrated at the slow pace of the European Union to liberalize its visa regime for Kosovo’s 2m citizens visiting the Schenghen area.

In addition to tariffs, last week Kosovo’s parliament voted unanimously to convert its security force into a proper national army, prompting anger and threats from Serbia.

The EU opposes the idea of a ‘land swap’ and has not been happy that Kosovo unilaterally established its own army. The US has spoken in favor of both moves, hinting at a growing disagreement between Brussels and Washington on how to handle the relationship between Prishtina and Belgrade.  

Tirana Echo understands that a similar letter has also been sent to Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic, confirming US plans to step in and accelerate the slow negotiations between the two countries, so far mediated by the EU Foreign policy Chief Federica Mogherini, whose mandate ends ahead of the May 2019 European elections which will see the composition of a new European Parliament and Commission in Brussels.

The United States is Kosovo’s largest financial and political sponsor as in 1999 it led a military NATO intervention to free its predominantly ethnic Albanian population from Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic as well as strongly backing the new Balkan country’s world recognitions, so far standing at 116 countries.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and hopes to join NATO and the European Union in the future. However, the new country is not recognized by Russia, China, Serbia and 5 other EU member states  which fear dissidence with their own regions wishing to break away.

The US hopes that a possible deal ending with Kosovo’s recognition by Serbia, would unlock the knot and make it easier for other international recognitions desperately needed for Kosovo to become a full member of the United Nations.  

Failure to capitalize on this unique opportunity would be a tragic setback, as another chance for comprehensive peace is unlikely to occur again soon,” – said Trump in his letter to Thaçi.

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