US envoy invites Kosovo, Serbia for talks on settlement
PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — The U.S. White House invited leaders of both Serbia and Kosovo to go to Washington this month in hopes of advancing negotiations toward normalization of still-bitter relations following Kosovo’s breakway.
E.U. envoy Miroslav Lajcak had planned to come to push for renewed talks, but his commercial flight from Zurich, Switzerland, was cancelled, delaying his arrival until Tuesday, spokeswoman Katharian Kandt told the Associated Press in an email.
She said he plans “to discuss timing and modalities for a swift resumption of the Dialogue. He will also plans to discuss concrete dates for a swift resumption.”
Meanwhile, Richard Grenell, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy, invited both countries to go to the White House June 27 after getting confirmation from Serbia it would temporarily pause its campaign for countries to withdraw recognition of Kosovo, which itself agreed to pause efforts to win more international memberships.
Kosovo was part of Serbia until an armed uprising by the ethnic Albanian majority population in 1998-1999 triggered a bloody Serb crackdown. This in turn prompted a NATO bombing campaign against Serbia to force its troops out of Kosovo.
Belgrade refuses to recognize Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.
E.U.-facilitated negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade stalled in November 2018 after Kosovo set a 100% tariff on Serb goods. In April, the tariff was lifted by Kosovo’s previous prime minister, but it was replaced with other measures that irritated Serbia.
Kosovo’s new Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, in power for less than two weeks, has lifted all those obstacles, a move which was hailed by Serbian president Aleksandar Vucic as opening the way to resuming talks.
“If either side is unsatisfied with the June 27 discussions then they will go back to the status quo after they leave Washington,” warned Grenell, adding. “We must first make progress on growing the economic. This is the focus.”
Earlier this year Grenell urged both countries to reach deals on a direct flight between the two capitals and also restoring railway and highway links.
It wasn’t clear if Europe and the United States were coordinating efforts toward urging Serbia and Kosovo reach a deal.
Kosovo’s President Hashim Thaci immediately welcomed Grenell’s invitation. Previously he had been openly doubtful about Lajcak’s involvement, hinting that while he was foreign minister for Slovakia he had not shown any sign of trying to recognize Kosovo. Slovakia is one of five EU member countries not recognizing Kosovo.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.