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U.S. Envoy Calls Kosovo's Decision To Partially Lift Serbian Import Tariffs A 'Serious Mistake'

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Richard Grenell (left), the U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Munich on February 14

PRISTINA – The U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo says the United States does not support the Kosovar government’s decision to temporarily and partly lift the import tariff on products from Serbia.

In a tweet late on February 27, Richard Grenell, who also serves as U.S. ambassador to Germany and has recently been appointed as President Donald Trump's intelligence chief, called the move a “half measure.”

"Our position is quite clear: the tariffs must be completely dropped," Grenell tweeted, adding that Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti "is making a serious mistake."

The United States is one of the biggest backers of Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which it declared in 2008. Serbia continues to consider its former province part of its territory.

European Union-facilitated talks on normalizing diplomatic relations were derailed in November 2018 by Pristina's imposition of 100 percent tariffs on Serbian goods and services in response to Belgrade's continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo.

In a statement on February 28, the EU welcomed Kosovo’s announcement as a “first step” that “could have a positive effect” on restoring regional trade and “offer an opening” for the resumption of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.

"Too much time has been lost.Trust needs to be urgently restored. Serbia and Kosovo need to create an environment that is conducive for the dialogue to resume, to the benefit of both,” it said.

Kurti on February 27 announced Kosovo would abolish the tariff on raw materials imported from Serbia from March 15 as a sign of “goodwill to resolve the political and economic dispute with Serbia.”

Kurti told a news conference that tariffs in place for all other Serbian goods will be eliminated on April 1 for a period of 90 days if Belgrade halts its campaign of prodding other countries not to recognize Kosovo’s statehood and removes trade barriers for Kosovo.

But if Serbia fails to show goodwill, Kosovo will gradually reciprocate in kind -- first in trade, then in political terms, he warned.

And if no satisfactory response from Belgrade has come, the tariff will be reimposed from June 15.

Kurti's key coalition ally, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK), threatened to quit the government if the tariff was not "revoked unconditionally," Deputy Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti told local media.

Former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj, whose government imposed the tariffs in 2018, condemned the plan set out by Kurti, calling it "the beginning of the return of Serbia and Russia to Kosovo."

There have been no immediate comments from Serbian officials.

In a step toward improving ties, Serbian and Kosovar officials earlier this year signed deals to establish air, rail, and highway links between Pristina and Belgrade.

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