January 31, 2022
The Western Balkans are a tremendous opportunity for the European Union, not a risk, said U.S. Special Envoy Gabriel Escobar during a visit to Kosovo with EU Special Representative Miroslav Lajcak.
Speaking in Pristina on January 31, Escobar said that the United States has been working with European colleagues to make sure they recognize the opportunity that normalizing relations presents.
In that regard, we encourage all sides to look at the Western Balkans as potential future members of the EU, all of them in peace with each other, all of them productive and capable members, the way we’ve seen them as bilateral partners. And the best hope for that is through the dialogue,” Escobar said in a joint address with Lajcak and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti.
Escobar and Lajcak are visiting Kosovo and later this week Serbia to encourage the two sides to continue the dialogue on normalization of relations facilitated by the EU.
“The dialogue has our full support, and it should be European-led,” Escobar said. “But as you move into the EU, you will also continue to be a close friend of the United States, because it is a transatlantic partnership, a transatlantic community.”
He said that the United States fully supports the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Kosovo.
Lajcak said that the visit shows that the EU and the United States are working “hand in hand” to facilitate dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia and a joint vision for the future.
“I am glad that this visit has already offered us an opportunity to discuss our plans for the coming weeks and months with [President Vjosa Osmani and Kurti] and we will continue our discussion,” Lajcak said.
He added this will help them get “a very good picture on what to expect in the future and how to take the process forward.”
The visit comes amid stalled talked between Kosovo and Serbia, which refuses to recognize the independence of its former province.
Serbian Foreign Minister Nikola Selakovic said on January 30 that there had been no formal dialogue on normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina since Kurti became Kosovo’s prime minister, but Kurti has held two meetings with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic since returning to power in March.
Both sides signaled after the last Kurti-Vucic meeting that the parties were far apart in their positions.
The European Union has stressed it was willing to organize a new meeting once the Serbian and Kosovar sides show willingness to achieve concrete results.
One stumbling block is the creation of an association of majority Serb municipalities. It was expected to be one of the topics to be discussed during the U.S. and EU envoys’ visits with Kosovo authorities.
The EU has repeatedly called for the association to be established, saying that it is Kosovo’s obligation under the Brussels Agreement reached in 2013. But the current Kurti-led government says there can be no association based on ethnicity or anything looking like Republika Srpska.
“We are determined that territorial integrity, sovereignty, state functionality, constitutionality, and legality at all times remain intact from any attempts of anyone,” Kurti said during the joint address with Escobar and Lajcak.
The Kosovar government supports the Brussels dialogue, he said, adding that he is ready to answer all of the needs of Kosovar citizens, including Serbian citizens.