Prishtina, Kosovo | Aug 26 (Tirana Echo) – The 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” – White House national-security adviser John Bolton said this week.
Bolton, known for his particularly blunt and direct style of diplomatic engagement, made the comments during his recent trip in Ukraine, where he was interviewed by RFE/RL.
“I think there are new signs that both governments very quietly may be willing to negotiate on this. Our policy, the U.S. policy, is that if the two parties can work it out between themselves and reach agreement, we don’t exclude territorial adjustments. It’s really not for us to say.” – Bolton told RFE/RL.
“We would not stand in the way, and I don’t think anybody in Europe would stand in the way if the two parties to the dispute reached a mutually satisfactory settlement,” Bolton concluded.
Bolton’s comments follow vague suggestions from both Serbian and Kosovan Presidents about a possible deal to exchange the north of Kosovo with the southern part of Serbia as part of a wider agreement which could lead to the eventual recognition of Kosovo’s independence by Serbia.
Earlier in July, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic suggested that the northern part of Kosovo, which is predominantly populated by ethnic Serbs, could be handed over to Serbia in exchange for the territory of the Presevo Valley in southern Serbia which is mainly populated by ethnic Albanians.
“All Serbs know that they lost Kosovo, but I will try everything in my might to retrieve what I can, so that in the end it’s not a total defeat or total loss,” Vucic told Croatian news magazine Globus.
Belgrade and Prishtina are involved in ongoing EU mediated talks to sort out their differences, while Serbia is under pressure to recognize its former province as an independent country before it can consider joining the European Union.
Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci has indicated he would accept to discuss about the unification of the Presevo Valley region with Kosovo at the next EU mediated official talks between Kosovo and Serbia in Brussels next month.
Earlier Thaçi had suggested there could be a “correction of the borderline with Serbia and unification of the Presevo valley with Kosovo.”
Ethnic Albanians form an overwhelming majority of the residents in the Presevo Valley, as well as in southern Serbia’s nearby regions of Bujanovac and Medvedja.
While Thaci and Vucic have suggested this would be part of a deal to normalize relations, Kosovo’s President has come under heavy criticism from the country’s prime minister Ramush Haradinaj as well as from part of the political spectrum in neighboring Albania.
Albania’s former prime minister Sali Berisha, who is widely popular in Kosovo sad the deal was bad for Kosovo.
“I have always been against the change of the borders of Kosovo and against any partition, division or bargaining with its territory, and against any discussion over such issues. Undeniably Serbia has always wanted to use you as a bargaining merchandise for an exchange of territories,” – said Berisha, in a clear criticism of Thaçi’s statements.
Critics claim Kosovo would give up a precious part of its northern territory in exchange for a poor area of southern Serbia, of no economic value to Kosovo. The north is host to the Trepča Mines, Europe’s largest lead-zinc and silver ore mine, a large industrial complex in Kosovo, located 9 km northeast of Mitrovica, on the southern slopes of the Kopaonik mountain.
Mitrovica is home to around 40,000-60,000 ethnic Serbs who do not recognize the government of Prishtina and pledge loyalty to Belgrade. The city which is ethnically divided has been the subject of several ethnic tensions in the past.
Critics have also warned that a change of borders in the Balkans could start off a spiral of destabilizing moves across other fragile countries, notably Bosnia & Herzegovina and Macedonia.
During a press conference last week, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel voiced her opposition to fresh border changes in the Balkans.
“The territorial integrity of the states of the Western Balkans has been established and is inviolable,” Merkel said during a press conference in Berlin with Denis Zvizdić, the prime minister of Bosnia & Herzegovina.
So far, the European union has been very vague about a possible land swap between Kosovo and Serbia, fearing reactions from other nations in the region.
However, Bolton’s statement that the US won’t stand in the way, clears any previous speculations that US President Donald Trump could be open to accepting a partition deal.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 1999 following a NATO led bombing campaign against the Milosevic regime which had forced the majority of ethnic Albanians to flee their homes to neighboring Macedonia and Albania.
Serbian politicians are reluctant to publicly accept the independent Republic of Kosovo, claiming that Kosovo is the cradle of Serbian civilization, although behind the scenes they talk of a ‘fait accompli’.
So far, 117 countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state while Russia strongly objects to a possible UN recognition of the young Balkan state.
Five EU member states are yet to recognize Kosovo while the European Union recently recommended the liberalization of the visa regime for Kosovo’s citizens.
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