Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti have arrived at the White House to attend a meeting as part of long-running negotiations between the Balkan rivals.
"The United States is ready to facilitate #EconomicNormalization!” the U.S. National Security Council said on September 3 in a tweet signed by national-security adviser Robert O’Brien showing photos of Vucic and Hoti arriving and being greeted by Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo negotiations.
The United States has stressed that the talks on September 3 and 4 will focus on economic development and job creation, a special adviser to U.S. President Donald Trump said on September 1 during a call with reporters.
The official said tackling political disputes between Serbia and Kosovo has failed to yield results, and the United States aims to focus on tangible economic issues that will help people on the ground.
The official said the United States was also focused on implementing the air, rail, and motor agreements between the two sides that have already been reached.
However, Serbia’s Finance Minister Sinisa Mali told reporters in Washington that "mutual recognition" has been put high on the agenda of the talks, and all 16 points on a list of topics to be discussed are political, not economic.
"Economic topics are obviously not a priority as we expected," said Mali, who is a member of the Serbian delegation in Washington.
"This is the worst proposal we have seen so far in the history of our talks with the Albanians. But we will not give up and we will fight," Mali said, adding that the pressure on the Serbian delegation was "great” but Serbia will "fight for every sentence and every word" during the talks in Washington.
Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, declared independence from Serbia in 2008 in a move rejected by Belgrade.
Grenell said on Twitter shortly after the talks began that it was “not true” that he had presented Vucic with a document to sign regarding Kosovo's independence.
Both Kosovo and Serbia, which aspire to join the European Union, have been facing mounting pressure from the West to reboot negotiations.
Washington stepped up its involvement in Serbia-Kosovo negotiations last year in a process that runs parallel to nearly a decade of EU-mediated normalization efforts.
The EU-brokered talks have produced multiple agreements seeking to normalize relations in the region, although many of them have not been implemented.
In July, Vucic and Hoti held their first face-to-face negotiations in 20 months under an EU-mediated dialogue process after Kosovo lifted import tariffs on Serbian goods.
At those talks, the two sides focused on issues of missing and displaced persons as well as economic cooperation.