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Economic Development Trumps Conflict During Serb-Kosovo Talks at White House

Sept. 4, 2020 (EIRNS)—Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti held talks at the White House to make progress on the multi-decade tensions between them. They came out with an announcement of economic normalization. President Donald Trump expressed the breakthrough this way: “After a violent and tragic history, and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide. By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough—something that nobody thought was going to be possible.”

Vučić, in Washington ahead of the talks, had told Serbian national TV that discussion of the recognition of Kosovo had been removed from the official agenda of the talks. “The people from the Trump administration were impartial, they heard us out, and the clause on mutual recognition is no longer in the documents,” Vučić said. For his part Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti told reporters in the Kosovo capital of Pristina that he was not going to discuss anything but the recognition and independence of Kosovo.

The U.S. hopes that the talks will foster new economic ties between the two adversaries as a first step to resolving many contentious political issues between them. Serbia considers Kosovo as still part of Serbia while there continues to be an ethnic Serb minority in the northeastern part of Kosovo.

In response to a question about the establishment of political normalization between Serbia and Kosovo, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien responded that the first step is economic cooperation: “the opening up of border crossings; investment by the United States in both Kosovo and Serbia; deals between Kosovo and Serbia on recognizing each other’s diplomas and licenses so that a dentist who is trained in Kosovo can perform his practice, or her practice, in Serbia and vice versa.”

Ambassador Ric Grenell, the Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations, responded:

“I think everybody knows that we’ve been stuck politically in this issue for decades, and many times fighting about symbolic things. And what President Trump did from the very beginning is say: Let’s flip it. Let’s figure out how to do economics first. You can’t pay your rent and you can’t buy food with symbolism, but you can when you have a job.... Let’s see if the concentration on economics and job creation can unstick the political stuff.”

Kosovo’s quest for recognition in international organizations, and Serbia’s actions to prevent its recognition, will both be frozen for one year while economic development and infrastructure linkages grow.

Vučić expressed his views about the breakthrough:

“Your [Trump’s] commitment to stabilize the region and to bring peace and stability to the region is something that we appreciate a lot. It’s something of utmost significance for us. And speaking about economy, of course speaking about politics, we haven’t resolved our problems. There are still a lot of differences between us, but this is a huge step forward, and I’m also again profoundly grateful to you and to your people that you successfully got us here.”

In a press conference to discuss the details of the plan, Grenell was asked a question by a reporter on another topic: Grenell’s initiative within the Trump Administration to decriminalize homosexuality around the world. (Former Acting Director of National Intelligence Grenell was the U.S.’s first openly gay cabinet member, and one point of the signed agreement was that Serbia and Kosovo would work to decriminalize homosexuality in those countries in which it remains illegal.) Grenell immediately cut off the questioner, asked whether he could even find Kosovo and Serbia on a map, and made a short, impassioned speech about how the media are almost incapable of focusing on important issues, of thinking outside the Beltway, even when the issue is a significant step forward towards peace and stability in the world.

Also included are agreements not to use 5G technology from “untrusted vendors” (gee, I wonder who that might be), to join the mini-Schengen encompassing Serbia, Albania, and North Macedonia, and for Kosovo to recognize Israel.

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