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New U.S. Balkan Envoy Makes Mending Serbia-Kosovo Relations A Priority

Matthew Palmer (file photo)

The new U.S. special envoy to the Western Balkans, Matthew Palmer, has said during a visit to the region that his priority is to restart dialogue between Serbia and its former province of Kosovo.

Reuters quoted Palmer, who was named to the envoy's post last week in an effort to encourage Balkan integration into European institutions, as telling the Bled Strategic Forum in Slovenia on September 3 that the first step was "getting the parties back to the table."

He reiterated remarks made in June during a visit to Belgrade to urge Kosovo to re-engage and to drop its 100 percent tariffs on imports from Serbia.

Those duties were imposed after Kosovar officials accused their Serbian counterparts of blocking Pristina's effort to join Interpol, the international police organization.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008. Although more than 110 countries recognize Kosovo's statehood, Belgrade does not.

Palmer said Serbia's attempts to get countries to rescind their recognition of Kosovo was "counterproductive" and "not in the interest of peace, stability, and security in the region."

Any moves of rapprochement are unlikely to start before a new Kosovar government is installed following snap parliamentary elections scheduled for October 6.

European Union-mediated talks between Kosovo and Serbia to settle their differences have stalled.

Nonmember states in the region -- Albania, Serbia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, and North Macedonia -- have expressed aspirations to join the European Union and NATO, with some more advanced in the process than others.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said he expected negotiations to resume "in early December, at best" because of the Kosovar polls.

The United States and four Western European countries on August 13 called on Serbia and Kosovo to restart the talks "with urgency," saying the current status quo was "simply not sustainable."

"After years of stagnation, the time has come to finally end the conflicts of the 1990s and provide a secure and prosperous future for the people of Kosovo and Serbia," the governments of Britain France, Germany, Italy, and the United States said in a statement.

Appointed on August 30, Washington says Palmer's mandate is to help the region integrate into Western institutions.

Palmer is a graduate of the National War College and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. He speaks Serbian, Greek, and Japanese, according to the State Department.

With reporting by Reuters and Balkan Insider