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Serbian, Kosovar Leaders Meet EU Officials In Brussels On Heels Of 'Historic' U.S.-Mediated Deal

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Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti (left) and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (combo photo)

Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo met with senior EU leaders in Brussels on September 7 on the heels of a U.S.-brokered deal last week to normalize the two Balkan neighbors' economic relations.

EU officials hope momentum from the economic breakthrough carries over into political progress between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, whose country still is not recognized by Serbia, Russia, and a handful of EU countries.

EU special envoy for the recently rekindled Serbian-Kosovar dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, said the sides discussed in Brussels the issues of non-majority communities and the settlement of mutual financial claims on property.

A joint statement ahead of the talks in Brussels said the Serbian and Kosovar leaders confirmed "they attach the highest priority to EU integration and to continuing the work on the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue which is a key element of their respective EU paths."

The statement, issued by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said Vucic and Hoti were "committed to redoubling" their efforts at EU alignment.

Serbia is a candidate for EU membership and Kosovo is a potential candidate.

Serbia and its former province agreed on September 4 to cooperate on a raft of economic issues to spur their economies and job growth after two days of intensive meetings with U.S. officials in Washington, the first concrete progress since a tariffs war broke out nearly two years ago.

They have so far resisted a deal on recognition for Kosovo and a normalization of diplomatic relations, which are at the center of a decade of EU mediation efforts.

The parallel U.S. diplomatic effort, although focused on economic development, has not been fully embraced by some EU officials.

The pre-meeting statement on September 7 said the Washington agreement was "building on previous dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, [and] could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalization of relations."

U.S. President Donald Trump announced on September 4 that Serbia and Kosovo had agreed to "a truly historic commitment" on economic normalization as part of U.S.-brokered talks that included Belgrade moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo.

Hoti said moving ahead with economic normalization was a “huge step forward" and cited rail links and other vital infrastructure projects.

Serbia agreed to a one-year pause of any campaign against Kosovo's efforts for membership into international organizations and new recognition from other countries.

Casting a shadow over the Brussels talks, the European Commission on September 7 voiced "serious concern" over Belgrade's commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.

“There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,” spokesman Peter Stano said. “Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.”

In Belgrade, Serbian Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic said the final decision would have to be discussed by the government and will depend on “a number of factors,” including future development of ties with Israel.

In all, a total of four countries now recognize contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including the United States and Guatemala.

Turkey on September 6 said it was "disappointing" to see "even the thought by Kosovar officials of taking such a step" as the recognition of Israel and the setting up of Pristina's mission in Jerusalem.

Mostly Sunni Turkey was one of the first countries to recognize predominantly Muslim Kosovo's independence in 2008 and is a vocal advocate of the Palestinian cause.

Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not.

Kosovo’s parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

With reporting by Reuters, AP, and AFP
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