Interpol, the international police agency, has rejected Kosovo's membership for a third time, an outcome that the Balkan country said was disappointing and the United States described as a loss for "closing a critical security gap in the Balkans."
Kosovo's application was assessed on November 20 at Interpol's four-day general assembly in the the United Arab Emirates city of Dubai, together with applications from other states that wanted to join the 192-member police organization.
Interpol, which has its headquarters in the French city of Lyon, acts as a clearinghouse for national police services that want to hunt down suspects outside their borders.
The organization's rules stipulate that, in order to become a member, a country must receive two-thirds of votes cast, excluding abstentions. In case the two-thirds majority is not reached, a second round of voting is allowed.
In the first round on November 20, Kosovo's application was supported by 76 countries, while 56 voted against and 22 abstained.
Since the two-thirds threshold, or 88 votes, was not reached, a second round was held, and this time only 68 countries voted in favor, while 51 voted against and 16 abstained.
Kosovo, which fought a war against Serbia in 1998-99, declared independence from Belgrade in 2008. Its independence has been recognized by most Western states, including the United States, but not by Serbia and Russia.
Kosovo's government blamed the failure on what it called "Serbia's wild campaign" against its Interpol membership. "Voting against Kosovo's accession in this international organization only serves...criminals and no one should rejoice," it said in a statement.
While bashing what it said was "a campaign, led by Serbia, to pressure countries to oppose Kosovo’s bid," the U.S. Embassy to Pristina praised the "majority of countries" that voted in favor of the move.
Kosovo's previous attempts to join Interpol in 2015 and 2016 were also rejected. In 2017, the Balkan country withdrew its application, citing lack of support.
The U.S. Embassy statement pointed out that accepting Kosovo as a member of Interpol "was never about recognition of Kosovo's independence, but about strengthening global law enforcement cooperation and closing a critical security gap in the Balkans."
It said Kosovo's police force is a "fully integrated and capable institution" that has proven its ability to fight international terrorism, cybercriminals, as well as narcotics, arms, and human smuggling networks.
"With this outcome, we all lose," the U.S. statement said.
Accepting Kosovo as a full member of Interpol would allow Pristina, among other things, to distribute "red notices" for Serbian officials that Kosovo deems to be war criminals for their actions during the 1998-99 war, which ended when NATO initiated a 78-day bombing campaign of Yugoslavia.
Red notices are alerts filed by Interpol to member states that identify suspects wanted for arrest by another country.
The United States continues to "strongly support" the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, the U.S. Embassy said in its statement, urging both sides to "avoid provocations and work together on a deal."
Serbia, however, hailed the outcome, with President Aleksandar Vucic saying the vote was a "victory" for Serbia.
"I am proud of our country's struggle," he said. "I want to believe that this will be a clear, undoubted message to Europe and the world to understand that things cannot be solved with one-sided pressure," Vucic said, without elaborating.
During the November 20 session, two other countries -- the Pacific island-states of Kiribati and Vanuatu -- became Interpol members.