Die Morina, Pristina, BIRN, February 28, 2019
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj has not budged from his defence of tariffs on Serbian imports following a top-level meeting with a White House delegation – despite President Hashim Thaci insisting on cooperation with the US.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, Ramush Haradinaj, on Wednesday resisted further pressure from the United States to withdraw controversial tariffs imposed on Serbian and Bosnian imports.
Haradinaj discussed the matter on Wednesday evening with the Director for European Affairs at the US National Security Council, John Erath, and with the Balkans Director of the council, Brad Berkley.
The two US officials “reiterated the clear stance of the US administration that the tax must be suspended in order to continue the dialogue and efforts to reach a comprehensive agreement between Kosovo and Serbia,” a statement issued by President Hashim Thaci, who attended the meeting, said.
Haradinaj did not even mention the issue after the meeting ended. He wrote on Facebook only that Kosovo remained “willing to have a legally binding agreement [with Serbia] that results in mutual recognition within the existing borders”.
He said Kosovo was “also willing to undertake the rights and obligations of membership of NATO, the United Nations, EU and other international organisations, and for good neighbourly relations”.
President Thaci has made no secret of his belief that Kosovo must not quarrel with its most important ally by far. He called on state institutions to “take concrete actions in line with the friendly advice of the US, as soon as possible.
“The actions should be in the function of preserving and strengthening strategic cooperation with the US, and our state commitment for dialogue and a peaceful agreement,” Thaci is quoted as saying.
After meeting the US delegation on Thursday, the head of Kosovo’s delegation on negotiations with Serbia, Fatmir Limaj, also appeared to distance himself from the Prime Minister. “It is already clear that there are different approaches on this issue,” Limaj said, about the import taxes.
“I assured them [the US] that we are working hard for Kosovo institutions to take a unique approach on this issue that would enable the start of dialogue [with Serbia], taking into account the advice of our American friends,” he wrote.
However, Haradinaj’s chef-de-cabinet, Avni Arifi, said the relationship between Kosovo and the US was based on mutual trust in democracy and freedom, and the tax issue does not have anything to do with it.
“The tariff against the Serbian state has no connection whatsoever with our relation to the US,” Arifi wrote on Facebook.
After the meeting was over, Thaci, perhaps significantly, visited the home of the former prime minister Isa Mustafa whose Democratic League of Kosovo, LDK, is the the biggest opposition party. LDK spokesperson Besian Mustafa said President Thaci had informed Mustafa about the demands of the US officials.
Media reported that during the day the US delegation intended to meet a group of MPs from the LDK, the Social Democratic Party, PSD and Alternative party.
The government initially imposed a tariff of 10 per cent on Serbian goods on November 6, citing Serbia’s “negative behaviour” towards Kosovo’s statehood and its international campaign against Kosovo’s recognition.
The decision to sharply increase this to 100 per cent was made on November 21, a day after Kosovo failed to secure the support of two-thirds of Interpol’s 192 member states to join the international police organisation, a failure which it blamed on Serbian lobbying.
Since then, Haradinaj has faced strong international pressure to revoke the tariffs. The EU has complained that the taxes violate Kosovo’s own commitments as part of the CEFTA regional free trade group.