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US envoy calls EU decision on Balkans ‘historic mistake’

November 4, 2019 GMT
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Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S.Department of State - Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, left, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrive for a news conference after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not recognize. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)
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Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S.Department of State - Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, left, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrive for a news conference after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not recognize. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans on Monday described European Union’s decision not to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania as a “historic mistake” that sends a bad message to the region.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said the U.S. will do all it can to persuade the EU to reverse the decision before a planned leaders’ meeting in May in Croatia.

“America wants the Western Balkans to have a European perspective,” Palmer said after talks in Belgrade with Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic.

French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to allow any new countries into the 28-nation bloc until its enlargement procedures have been reformed, while the Netherlands opposes Albania’s candidacy and disputes the commission’s assessment.

The decision was seen as a setback for the region where EU membership prospect has been a strong source of encouragement for reform and reconciliation after the war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“We believe it was a historic mistake,” Palmer said. “It is a bad message to the entire region.”

The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade doesn’t recognize.

Vucic says normalization talks could resume in two to three months. They have been blocked for nearly a year following Kosovo’s decision to impose a 100% trade tax on goods from Serbia in response to Belgrade’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence.

“We want the dialogue to be serious, responsible and lead to a compromise solution,” Vucic said.

Washington and its allies have recognized Kosovo’s independence, while Russia, China and five EU nations have backed Belgrade.