The presidents of Kosovo and Serbia will meet at the White House later this month, like Donald Trump aims to make a breakthrough in the long-standing dispute between the two nations.
The meeting, announced this week by Trump’s controversial Balkan envoy, Richard Grenell, came as a surprise to the capitals of europe and raised concerns in some quarters that a precipitate agreement between Belgrade and Pristina could involve a land swap which could have spillover effects.
“If, and this is a big if, this initiative is successful, this will be something of a slap in the face for the EU and its many years of efforts to try to normalize relations between Belgrade and Pristina”, said Corina Stratulat from the European policy Centre in Brussels.
Serbia still considers Kosovo part of its territory. The republic was broken after the bombing campaign of Nato in 1999 against Serbia, and declared its independence in 2008. A potential agreement could open the way for trade, mutual recognition and the eventual accession to the EU for the two countries.
The president of Kosovo, Hashim Thaçi, on Tuesday confirmed that it would attend the talks and said: “Kosovo has no time to lose, no time to stagnate or falter, we need to move as fast as possible towards the perspective of being part of the organization of the United Nations, Nato and the EU.”
Grenell, in announcing the White House of the meeting, added to the overall idea of the case. “As we have always said, we must first make progress on the growth of the economy. This is the point,” he written on his Twitter account.
In serbia, the president, Aleksandar Vučić, has also said Tuesday that the negotiations will be essentially of an economic nature, and added that Serbia wanted to engage with the united states and with the EU efforts to find a solution. “We’re not going to fight with Germany or America,” Vučić said. “It is important that, in the battle of the elephants we remain unharmed.”
The role of Grenell, an Asset loyalist, has been controversial. In April, Kosovo’s ousted prime minister Albin Kurti accused the US envoy of mounting a coup to overthrow him because of his skepticism about a possible deal. Kurti said Grenell was not interested in the substance of an agreement, but only “the signature on the bottom of the sheet”, which could be presented as a success to carry into an election year.
“My government has been overthrown for anything else, but simply because the ambassador Grenell was in a hurry to sign an agreement with Serbia,” Kurti said in April.
Molly Montgomery, a White House adviser to Vice-President, Mike Pence, said that it was difficult to “take 100% at face value” Grenell insists on the fact that the White House talks would be purely economic. “In the context of Kosovo and of Serbia, economic issues are often related to political issues as we have seen in the past,” she said. She also noted that the EU had been “box is completely” from the negotiating table.
After the announcement of talks, Grenell has taken to criticism on Twitter, including Carl Bildt, former prime minister and president of the European Council on Foreign Relations, who had criticized the decision to dismiss the EU. Bildt was suffering from “Trump Syndrome of Disturbance”, Grennel wrote.
On Tuesday, the european UNION’s newly appointed ambassador in charge of peace negotiations, the former Slovak minister of foreign affairs Miroslav Lajčák, has flown to Belgrade and Pristina, in what looked like the EU to play catch-up.
Ian Bancroft, who has worked for the european UNION, in the North of Kosovo and has written a recent book on the region, said the leadership of the EU, the dialogue had reached much of the increased success, but has made little progress on consolidating the state of Kosovo, which Pristina lend themselves to a broker case. “Kosovo has been denied even the liberalisation of visas, therefore speak from a European point of view rings hollow,” he said.
He noted, however, that both parties should be aware that the calendar is precipitated, combined with Trump uncertain election prospects, the prospects for overall, own business minimal. “A possible Biden, the administration would have a very different stance on the issue,” said Bancroft.
In another sign of the delicacy of geopolitical considerations related to the agreement, in the hours that Grenell of the announcement, Monday, Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, called Vučić to remind him that any agreement must be approved by the security council of the UN. Vučić has played a delicate balancing act in recent years, the court of justice of the EU, while maintaining good relations with Russia.
Moscow is wary of an agreement that could mean Serbia, one of its few allies in Europe, opens the door to increased US and Nato, influence. Vučić will travel to Moscow to meet with Putin, a few days before going to the White House.