As with any other important negotiation, the outcome of the September 4 meeting, is likely to be a consensus which saves face for both Kosova and Serbia and yet delivers a news-worthy headline that an agreement was reached. The agreement, albeit not final and not comprehensive, is likely to be economic in nature, whereby the US will guarantee some kind of financial support for major cross-border infrastructure projects out of which citizens of both Kosova and Serbia will benefit.
Faton Tony Bislimi
On September 4, the White House will host a high level meeting between Kosova and Serbia in an effort to get a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations and mutual recognition between the two European nations. The potential agreement would end the process of dialogue between these two neighbors which has lasted for almost a decade now under the leadership and facilitation of the EU.
While the United States has always been involved in the Brussels-led dialogue process, the White House has taken a particular interest in the issue since December 2018 when President Trump sent letters to Kosova and Serbia leaders asking them to finalize the deal soon and celebrate it together at the White House. Two months earlier, Mr Trump had appointed Ambassador Richard Grenell as his special envoy for the Kosova-Serbia dialogue. Ever since, Mr. Grenell has taken a leading role in the process and both countries have submitted to his agenda. Indeed, his insistence that Kosova’s Kurti Government remove all tariffs against Serbian goods became an impassable hurdle for Kurti which led to his removal from office in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. The Kosova Parliament was quick to elect a new Prime Minister, Mr. Avdullah Hoti, in a broad coalition government, so as to meet US demands in removing the tariffs and resuming the dialogue soon.
Under the leadership of Mr. Grenell and the National Security Advisor Mr. O’Brien, at the President’s direction, the presidents of Kosova and Serbia, Mr. Thaci and Mr. Vucic respectively, were invited for a White House summit set for June 27. While Mr. Thaci was en route to Washington for the summit, the Specialist Prosecutorial Chambers of Kosova based at the Hague issued a press release confirming that an indictment was being filed against Mr. Thaci and others for crimes committed in Kosova in 1998-2000. This development made Mr. Thaci cancel his trip to Washington and return to Prishtina. To many, the publication of the indictment was politically motivated and orchestrated by those high up in the EU;s political establishment, who do not favor another Trump presidency,, to prevent the White House summit of June 27, fearing that a quick-fix deal could be forced on both parties by the US and so Mr. Trump could claim a major diplomatic victory in the very backyard of Europe. One can easily see how ending the Kosova-Serbia conflict – one of the bloodiest and longest lasting in Europe;s modern history – in a peace deal signed with Mr. Trump as the mediator could be used to bolster Mr. Trump’s foreign policy record and challenge his Democratic opponent Mr. Biden’s record on this very issue, with which he has a long history of dealing since he was a US Senator.
Although the June 27 summit did not take place, the idea behind it was never abandoned. Indeed, the meeting is now scheduled to take place on September 4 at the White House and the hosts of Kosova and Serbia delegations led by Prime Minister Hoti and President Vucic, respectively, will be Ambassador Grenell and Mr. O’Brien. There has not been a lot of clarity on the agenda for the meeting, except that economic development and growth for both countries will be at the core of the discussions. Kosova and Serbia will appear at the meeting with diametrically opposing views and stands on political issues — because Kosova wants political recognition from Serbia as a sovereign and independent state, while Serbia is ready to pay any price just so that they would not recognize Kosova, which they consider – and wrongly so – the cradle of their nation. Hence, it seems very unlikely that a final comprehensive deal will be reached, but this does not mean that parties will not come out of the White House with some kind of an economic agreement.
Amb. Grenell, who is known to be very close to Mr. Trump, does not seem ready to accept a flat ‘no’ by any party at this meeting. As with any other important negotiation, the outcome of the September 4 meeting, is likely to be a consensus which saves face for both Kosova and Serbia and yet delivers a news-worthy headline that an agreement was reached. The agreement, albeit not final and not comprehensive, is likely to be economic in nature, whereby the US will guarantee some kind of financial support for major cross-border infrastructure projects out of which citizens of both Kosova and Serbia will benefit.
If those in the EU and even within the US purposely tried to kill the June 27 summit so as to prevent any agreement under Mr. Trump’s leadership, they only postponed it and perhaps downgraded it. The role of the US in the Balkans region has always been crucial. Especially for Kosova, the US direct involvement in this final phase of the Kosova-Serbia dialogue is essential, since Kosovars are the most pro-American people in Europe and they see in the US their key ally and protector. The continued American presence and engagement there is also a strong deterrent to Russia’s and China’s ambitions to bring under their wings this important European region of strategic and geopolitical interest for the west in general and the US in particular.