Serbia, Kosovo sign economic pact at White House

US President Donald J. Trump (C) participates in a signing ceremony and trilateral meeting with the President of the Republic of Serbia, Aleksandar Vucic (L), and the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kosovo, Avdullah Hoti (R), at the White House, in Washington, DC, USA, on 04 September 2020. [EPA-EFE/ANNA MONEYMAKER]

Former Balkan foes Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on a historic pact to normalise economic relations, US President Donald Trump announced at the White House on Friday (4 September), hailing the agreement as “historic”.

And in a fresh diplomatic success for the US leader, both Kosovo and Serbia also agreed to improve their relations with Israel — Kosovo will formally recognise the Jewish state and Serbia will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

“A truly historic day,” Trump said, with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sitting beside him in the Oval Office.

“By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a real breakthrough on economic cooperation across a broad range of issues.”

Trump praised his special emissary Richard Grenell for bringing the two sides together, two decades after they fought a bloody war that left 13,000 dead.

“It took decades because you didn’t have anybody trying to get it done,” Trump said of the agreement.

“There was a lot of fighting and now there’s a lot of love,” he said. “Economics can bring people together.”

Speaking to reporters in the White House, Vucic said Trump had done a “great job,” praising his commitment to the Balkan region, while Hoti called it a big step forward — though neither Serbia nor its former territory formally recognise the other.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci hailed the agreement in a statement, praising Trump for advancing the cause “of peace, economic development and Euro-Atlantic future.”

Kosovo, which declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, “must now continue to work for membership in international organisations and for new recognitions, for our country to be fully consolidated domestically and internationally,” he wrote.

Details of the agreement were not immediately available, but it was expected to be limited to the normalisation of some economic ties, easing commerce and opening up road, rail and air links between the former Balkan war foes.

The talks included representatives of major US economic aid agencies including the Export-Import Bank, suggesting US financial support was involved in bringing the two sides together.

The European Union has brokered talks for nearly a decade to thaw the bitter relationship between Serbia and its former province, but many of the agreements they set have not been implemented.

After a long standstill caused by Kosovo’s imposing import tariffs on Serbian goods, as well as by changes of government in Kosovo, the talks have resumed and are now mediated by the EU special envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Slovak diplomat Miroslav Lajčak.

Vucic and Hoti are due to meet again in Brussels on Monday (7 September).

A separate effort focused on business and commerce was launched more recently by US officials.

But Serbia made clear during the talks that it would not go as far as recognising Kosovo as a fully-fledged state. Normalising relations is a key requirement for both Serbia and Kosovo to advance their hopes of joining the European Union. Serbia is already negotiating for membership while Kosovo has not yet been granted candidate status.

The Kosovo-Serbia pact, and their agreements to improve relations with Israel, added to Trump’s recent record of diplomatic successes. Last month, Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced they would normalise relations after US-brokered negotiations.

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