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U.S. Ambassador To Kosovo Says Balkan Economic Rise A 'High Policy Priority' For Trump

U.S. Ambassador Philip Kosnett speaks during an interview with RFE/RL on September 21.
U.S. Ambassador Philip Kosnett speaks during an interview with RFE/RL on September 21.

PRISTINA -- The U.S. ambassador to Kosovo has stressed Washington's commitment to the goal of "full, normal relations" between Serbia and its former region of Kosovo while encouraging compromise on both sides to turn "pledges into the reality."

In an interview in the Kosovar capital with RFE/RL, Ambassador Philip Kosnett also said regional economic development in the Balkans was "a high policy priority of the Trump administration."

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti signed an economic normalization deal at the White House this month that also calls for Belgrade to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and for mutual recognition by Israel and Kosovo.

The agreement includes commitments to create road and rail connections but fell far short of the internationally stated aim of recognition from Serbia of its former province at the heart of more than a decade of on-again, off-again talks mediated by the European Union.

"I think that it is difficult to set a timeline or a deadline for any of this," Kosnett said. "The goal of the U.S. is to encourage the process that will end in full, normal relations between the two countries."

The deal marked the first tangible sign of cooperation between the two neighbors since the EU-sponsored talks broke down two years ago and a tariff war began over Belgrade's ongoing policy of trying to convince governments to withdraw their recognition of Kosovo.

"What we do on the economic track is meant to complement and encourage the steps that will be undertaken on the political track. But I can't tell you how long it will take until full political normalization between Kosovo and Serbia is reality," Kosnett said.

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.

Dismissing the notion that U.S. diplomacy is competing with Brussels, Kosnett said Washington was "in very close contact with our EU colleagues."

"It is definitely not a rivalry, it is a partnership," Kosnett said of U.S. and EU efforts to further the dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, which has refused to recognize Kosovo since Pristina declared independence in 2008.

In a sign Washington wants to capitalize on momentum, U.S. President Donald Trump's special envoy for Serbia-Kosovo peace talks, Richard Grenell, and other U.S. officials on September 21 were in Kosovo as part of a swing through the Balkans that also includes Serbia.

The delegation brought top officials from the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, the United States' development bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Adam Boehler, CEO of the International Development Finance Corporation, said at a press conference after signing a joint statement on investment with Hoti that there was “a pipeline of over a billion dollars of projects” covering roads, rail, and natural gas, and supporting small and medium-sized businesses.

Kosnett also cited the role of the U.S. Export-Import Bank in providing trade credit and said he hoped private-sector investment, including from Europe, would help spur the region's fortunes.

"When we talk about the economic development of Kosovo and Serbia, when we talk about strengthening economic cooperation in the region, of course there is a role in the EU in that, and it is something we talked to them about," Kosnett said. "What we want to do, though, is get away from focusing just on process, and rules, and protocol, and focus on achievable actions."

He said the Trump administration, which is battling for reelection in November, was "doing a lot to actually bring about change" for Kosovo.

"We want action, we want to turn these pledges into the reality, and the U.S. will be part of this process," Kosnett said.

But, he added, "it is fundamentally the responsibility of the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to fulfill the pledges that they made in Washington."

He also said "it is impossible to get to a comprehensive agreement without compromise, by all parties."

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