Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to embark on a new chapter in their recently tumultuous relationship, establishing economic normalization in a signing ceremony at the White House Friday alongside President Donald Trump, who has been aggressively pursuing new foreign policy endeavors with the presidential election just under two months away.
The agreement to pursue economic engagement was coupled with a second announcement that Serbia would move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, and Kosovo and Israel have moved to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations.
The announcement concluded two days of meetings, mediated by the White House, between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Prime Minister of Kosovo Republic Avdullah Hoti as the Trump administration attempted to advance the peace process following stalled efforts due to political wrangling between the two sides.
Trump hailed the agreement as “a truly historic commitment,” adding that the countries were working toward this for “many, many years.”
This week’s talks between the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia were centered around job creation and the hope of creating momentum toward the establishment of air, rail and motorway links between Serbia’s capital, Belgrade, and Kosovo’s capital, Pristina.
The US efforts to broker an agreement, headed Trump’s special envoy, Richard Grenell, hit a road bump in recent months after a June White House meeting between the two size was canceled after a war crimes indictment was issued for Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.
Efforts to hold face-to-face meetings were also complicated by travel restrictions due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The talks to launch economic ties between Serbia and Kosovo come 21 years after NATO launched a 78-day air strike against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. In 2008, Kosovo’s parliament declared independence from Serbia, but tensions continued.
“This was a real chance for the two parties to talk,” Grenell told reporters at the White House following the signing ceremony. “We didn’t have any grand scheme. We didn’t have any absolute demands.”
The signing ceremony comes as the Trump administration works to attempt to broker other normalization agreements with Israel and several Arab nations. The administration last month announced a normalization deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which it hopes is the first of many similar agreements.
National security adviser Robert O’Brien said Friday that after decades of conflict between Serbia and Kosovo, the deadlock was broken. “It shows the sort of momentum that’s coming” along with the Israel-UAE agreement, he added.
While most western nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, Serbia, Russia and China have not. Trump hailed the agreements between Serbia, Kosovo and Israel as step toward “peace with the Middle East,” although neither Serbia nor Kosovo are in the Middle East, nor have they ever been at war with Israel.
During the ceremony, the President said that Serbia committed to “opening a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and to move its embassy to Jerusalem in July.”
Trump said this agreement will make the world safer and said he looks forward to visiting both countries in the “not so distant future.”
Trump signed a document during the Oval Office ceremony with the two leaders on Friday that seemed ambiguous when administration officials later attempted to explain it.
“What the two parties did was agree to move forward economically,” Grenell said. “What President Trump signed is as a witness to say this is a great agreement and the United States is happy for it.”
“They signed an agreement to work with each other,” Grenell added.
O’Brien said he thinks this economic normalization will lead to “breakthroughs on the political front in the future.”
Vucic thanked Trump for engaging the countries on this. He added that while Serbia and Kosovo still have political differences, “this is a huge step forward and I’m once again profoundly grateful to you (Trump) and to your people that successfully got us here.”
Hoti also thanked Trump for his role in this agreement calling it a “great moment for Kosovo and the region.”
“I think we made a huge step forward toward full normalization of relations that should lead eventually to mutually (inaudible) between the two countries,” Hoti added.