US president makes surprise intervention in faltering talks.

By Andrew Gray12/18/18

U.S. President Donald Trump urged his Kosovan counterpart Hashim Thaçi to seize the chance to seal a permanent peace deal with Serbia.

In a surprise intervention in faltering talks between the Balkan states, Trump held out the prospect in a letter of a White House meeting with Thaçi and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić if they reach a deal. Vučić received a similar letter from Trump, his media adviser said.

“I urge you and the leaders of Kosovo to seize this unique moment, speak with a unified voice during the peace talks, and refrain from actions that would make an agreement more difficult to achieve,” Trump wrote in his letter to Thaçi dated December 14, which the Kosovan president published on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

Trump’s words appeared to be aimed at the Kosovan government under Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, who has criticized Thaçi’s approach to the talks and taken a harder line with Serbia, including imposing 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods.

Guerrillas from Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority fought a war in 1998-99 to break away from Serbia after a decade of repression of the territory’s Albanians. The war ended after NATO intervened with a bombing campaign against Serbia in 1999.

Kosovo declared independence in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU members. However, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Russia, China and five EU members take the same stance.

Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have been engaged in years-long EU-backed talks to seal a permanent peace deal, which would open the path to eventual membership of the European Union for both countries. Prospects of a deal seemed to rise in August this year, when Thaçi and Vučić appeared together at a conference in Austria. But the leaders also raised the possibility of changing borders, which provoked strong opposition in Kosovo and split Western powers.

In recent months, relations between the two sides have soured. Kosovo leaders have been enraged by Serbia blocking their membership of international organizations and seeking to get governments that have recognized their independence to change their minds. Serbia, in turn, has been angered by the imposition of tariffs on its goods and recent moves by Kosovo to create its own army.

Trump, however, said an agreement was “within reach.”

“Failure to capitalize on this opportunity would be a tragic setback, as another chance for a comprehensive peace is unlikely to occur again soon,” he wrote in his letter.

“We stand ready to assist your efforts to reach an agreement that balances the interests of both Kosovo and Serbia,” Trump wrote. “I look forward to hosting you and President Aleksandar Vucic at the White House to celebrate what would be an historic accord.”