By ANDREW GRAY, 06/15/2020
The White House will host leaders from Serbia and Kosovo later this month in an effort to kickstart stalled efforts to reach a permanent peace settlement, according to Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy for the talks.
The two Balkan states have been locked in a frozen conflict since 1999, when a NATO air war ended Serb control of Kosovo in the last of a series of conflicts that raged as Yugoslavia was torn apart. The EU has overseen years of dialogue between the two sides but the Trump administration has seized the initiative in recent months, sidelining European powers.
Grenell, who recently stepped down as U.S. ambassador to Germany but retains the special envoy role he took on last year, said each side had made commitments to allow the White House talks to take place. Kosovo agreed to pause efforts to join international bodies and Serbia pledged to halt a campaign to get countries to revoke their recognition of Kosovo, he said.
„If either side is unsatisfied with the June 27 discussions then they will go back to the status quo after they leave Washington. As we have consistently said, we must first make progress on growing the economies. This is the focus. I look forward to these discussions,“ Grenell tweeted on Monday.
The U.S. moves put the Trump administration in the driving seat in the EU’s volatile back yard — to the alarm of some European officials. They have voiced fears that Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovan President Hashim Thaçi will agree to change borders as part of a deal that could revive violent campaigns for territory elsewhere in the region.
Grenell himself has insisted that a land swap has not been mentioned in his presence and that he does not regard it as an option.
The European Union has been caught flat-footed by the U.S. moves, which critics have alleged are an effort to gain kudos for Trump in an election year by sealing a peace deal. The EU has been unable to agree on a common line on border change and took six months to appoint a special envoy of its own after Trump named Grenell in October of last year.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including most EU members and the United States. But Belgrade continues to regard the territory as a rebel province and had blocked Kosovo’s membership of international organizations, with the backing of Russia and China.