Xhorxhina Bami, Pristina, BIRN, June 19, 2020
US envoy says Europeans can only take over the political aspects of the renewed talks once the US has sorted out the business of ‘economic normalization’.
The US and the EU have divided tasks regarding the continuation of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, the US special envoy for the dialogue, Richard Grenell, said, following reports of US-EU divisions on the Kosovo issue.
According to Grenell, the dialogue will have two phases. The first, facilitated by the US, will start in Washington on June 27 and focus on economic matters. The second phase, facilitated by the EU, will focus on the political aspects of the dialogue.
“The European path with Kosovo and Serbia towards integration in Europe is fully led by Europe, but this cannot be done until economic normalization is achieved,” Grenell told the Kosovo media outlet Gazeta Express on Thursday.
According to Grenell, the frozen conflict between Serbia and its former province, which declared independence in 2008, had dragged for more than 20 years because the talks held “no benefit for the people”.
For negotiations to work, he added, “people need to see an economy which is growing”, he told Gazeta Express, adding that “the French and the Germans understand fully that when we pass the economic part, which will take some time, when the workplaces start to come back, when the economy is improved, then you can start to discuss political issues”.
Grenell claimed that only after the economic conditions are met, “the Europeans will lead” the negotiations. “We have made it clear to the French and the Germans,” Grenell said.
An investigation by BIRN revealed that Kosovo used taxpayers money to lobby internationally for the idea of a land swap as the best solution to the conflict with Serbia. Former prime minister Albin Kurti had also claimed a “secret agreement” existed between Kosovo President Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Aleksandar Vucic on a land swap.
However, Thaci has dismissed the existence of such an agreement, and on Thursday, on Fox news, Grenell also rejected it, claiming it was part of the “salacious stories” being spread by former US National Security Advisor John Bolton “to sell copies of his forthcoming memoir of the Trump administration”.
“When it comes to Kosovo and Serbia, we’re having both of those two together at the White House next Saturday to talk about a historic movement and agreement. And yet I’m fighting constantly about this rumour about land swaps between the two,” Grenell said, adding that such an arrangement was not part of US policy.
“I’m fighting all of the rumours that that persisted because Bolton was pursuing his own policy rather than President Trump’s policy,” Grennell claimed.
President Thaci, who represented Kosovo in the negotiations until parliament voted for the government to lead the dialogue in mid-March, said in a press conference on Thursday, that for Kosovo, there was “a political issue as well as an economic one in relation to the neighbour, Serbia.” On Voice of America, on Thursday, he also announced that France was “expected to host a summit between Kosovo and Serbia in the third week of July”.
Kosovo’s Prime Minister, Avdullah Hoti, has said his country still seeks mutual recognition, as well as membership of international organisations, such as the UN.
However, for the fresh negotiations to start, Kosovo has temporarily paused its applications to international organisations, and Serbia has paused its own campaign to get countries to de-recognise Kosovo.
Reuters reported on Thursday that Serbian President Alexandar Vucic declared that Serbia is willing to give up potential EU integration if that is the only benefit for Serbia from the negotiations on Kosovo.
“In reply to a possible offer to recognise Kosovo, and that Kosovo enters the UN, and we receive nothing in return, except EU membership, our answer would be ‘no’,” Vucic said after meeting Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Thursday.
Lavrov also expressed Russia’s support for the EU as the facilitator of the negotiations, because it received a mandate to be the facilitator from the UN General Council.
According to Lavrov, the EU “must not be isolated from its obligations and must fulfill them impartially”. Lavrov emphasized the continued importance of UN Resolution 1244, from 1999, which upheld Serbia’s territorial integrity and by implication its claim to Kosovo. Russia, Serbia’s close ally, does not recognise Kosovo as a state and has veto power on the UN Security Council.
EU special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, in a meeting with officials in Pristina on Tuesday, said he had not decided whether to participate in the planned meeting in the US. On Thursday, in Pristina, Lajcak said he did not believe an agreement can be reached in Washington without the EU.
“The EU cannot be left aside because it is offering [Serbia and Kosovo] a European future, unless you want to leave the European future aside,” Lajcak declared.
The Kosovo-Serbia dialogue was suspended in November 2018 after then Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj’s government imposed a steep tariff on imports of Serbian and Bosnian origin.