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U.S. Reiterates Commitment To Kosovo Independence, Urges Dropping Tariffs On Serbian Goods

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) meets with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci at the State Department in Washington on February 26.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (right) meets with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci at the State Department in Washington on February 26.

PRISTINA -- Top U.S. officials have told visiting Kosovar President Hashim Thaci that the United States remains committed to the Balkan country's sovereignty and independence, but also insisted that Washington expects Kosovo to lift its 100 percent tariffs on Serbian imports.

During his meeting with Thaci in Washington on February 26, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "reaffirmed the strong partnership between the United States and Kosovo, rooted in continued commitment to shared values and our support for a sovereign, independent Kosovo," according to State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.

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.

Talks on normalizing diplomatic relations were derailed in November 2018 by Pristina's imposition of the tariffs on Serbian goods and services in response to Belgrade's continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo.

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

In her statement, Ortagus said Pompeo called on Kosovo to build on this "momentum," adding that he expected Pristina to drop the tariffs on Serbian imports to "fully maximize the economic and commercial benefits to people in both countries."

That, the statement said, was "an essential step to reviving negotiations on a comprehensive normalization of relations" with Serbia.

Ortagus said Pompeo also congratulated Kosovo on its "successful, democratic" general elections in October and this month's formation of a new government under Prime Minister Albin Kurti.

Thaci met at the Pentagon with Deputy Secretary of Defense David Norquist, who "reaffirmed the strong relationship between the United States and Kosovo, our shared values, and Kosovo's status as a sovereign independent nation," according to a statement.

Defense Department spokesman Charles Summers said in a statement that Norquist "noted Kosovo's continued support to counter" efforts by Russia and China to expand their influence in the Western Balkans.

The statement also urged Pristina and Belgrade to "resume efforts aimed at comprehensive normalization of relations in order to ensure a stable and secure environment" in the region.

Thaci wrote on Facebook that he was "extremely happy to see the utmost commitment and dedication on the part of the U.S. government and Secretary Pompeo personally in supporting Kosovo and its Euro-Atlantic future."

In a separate post, Kosovo's president thanked the United States for its support for the Kosovo Security Force, the country's lightly armed military.

"We share the same conviction that it is vital for security in Southeastern Europe that Kosovo becomes a NATO member as soon as possible," he wrote.