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Kosovo's Likely Next PM Meets U.S. Envoy

Albin Kurti: Not in a hurry to restart talks with Serbia.
Albin Kurti: Not in a hurry to restart talks with Serbia.

The leader of the center-left party that won a plurality of votes in Kosovo's October 6 early parliamentary elections has met with the new U.S. special envoy to Kosovo and Serbia, Richard Grenell.

Albin Kurti, who is poised to become Kosovo's next prime minister, met with Grenell at the U.S. Embassy in Kosovo's capital, Pristina.

Kurti said on October 8 that he wasn't in a hurry to restart formal talks designed to normalize relations with neighboring Serbia.

Both Grenell and the EU's likely future foreign-policy chief, Josep Borrell, have stated that normalizing relations between the two countries is a priority.

According to a statement released by Kurti's party, Vetevendosje (Self-Determination), Kurti reiterated during his talks with Grenell that "the content and the process of reaching the agreement [with Serbia] are more important for its sustainability than the timeline."

In an interview with the Associated Press published on October 8, Kurti said that Pristina-Belgrade negotiations weren't currently at the top of his list of things to do.

"It cannot be top priority on Day 1 of me as a new prime minister," he said.

His party defeated center-right groupings that were formed by former fighters from the Kosovo Liberation Army who had been in power for more than a decade.

Grenell and Kurti also talked about fighting corruption in Kosovo, the Vetevendosje statement said, adding that they both agreed the high level of corruption in the country of 1.8 million is an obstacle for foreign investors.

Grenell also met with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci. After the meeting the U.S ambassador to Pristina, Philip Kosnett, wrote on Twitter, "Special Presidential Envoy Grenell looks forward to working with President Thaci and other leaders of Kosovo to help bring peace, justice and prosperity to Kosovo and the region."

Thaci's office said in a statement that he told Grenell that his visit was "the biggest [sign of] attention from the U.S. for Kosovo since 2008," when Kosovo declared independence.

Serbia, China, Russia, and five European Union countries don't recognize Kosovo's statehood, although more than 110 countries do.

"This gives us confidence and trust in searching for a peace deal with Serbia. Active participation of the U.S. will be decisive to find a final solution between Kosovo and Serbia," the statement quoted Thaci as saying.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a decade of fighting an insurgent war amid a crackdown by former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.

Dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo started in 2011, but has since stalled. A bone of contention includes a 100 percent tariff on Serbian goods.

Until tensions defuse and relations stabilize, the EU has said prospects of Kosovo and Serbia joining the 28-member bloc remain dim.

Kurti, who spent 2 1/2 years in a Serbian prison for his pro-independence activity, has already sparked the ire of Serbia.

When asked about a Serbian minister in his future government, a constitutional requirement, Kurti said he preferred "a Serb minister who comes from those Serbs who recognize the independence of Kosovo."

Belgrade reacted with fury.

Marko Djuric, the Serbian official in charge of Kosovar affairs, accused Kurti of being an "extremist" who was "stomping" on the democratic rights of Kosovo-Serbs.

Following the elections, Kurti's Vetevendosje party asked the center-right Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK) to form a coalition government.

EU observers said Kosovo's elections were "well-administered and transparent," but pointed out shortcomings including "intimidation" of ethnic Serbs by the main political force that represents the country's minority Serbs, the Belgrade-backed Serbian List party.

It won the 10 seats in Kosovo's 120-seat legislature that are reserved for ethnic Serbs.

With reporting by AP
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