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US Envoy announces Kosovo-Serbia meeting at White House next month

The White House North Lawn, March 26, 2019 on the North Lawn. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo negotiations has announced that the two countries’ leaders have agreed to meet at the White House next month, after a similar meeting was canceled in June following the indictment of Kosovar President Hashim Thaci for crimes against humanity.

“We are happy to announce that the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia will meet at the White House for a negotiation on September 2,” Richard Grenell tweeted on April 14.

A senior U.S. official told RFE/RL on condition of anonymity that national security adviser Robert O’Brien will host the talks between the two leaders and Grenell.

“The United States believes progress on economic issues is key in advancing the peace process,” the official said.

Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic confirmed on August 14 that they will meet in Washington.

“On Sept 2, with Serbian side, as independent countries, we will meet at the White House for major projects that will change the economic perspective of Kosovo and the region,” Hoti wrote on Twitter.

Vucic, speaking to private television Pink on August 14, said he will attend the talks.

“Serbia is not in a position, and it would not be good to refuse talks,” Vucic said.

“The topics, as far as I talked to Grenell, will be economic. These are good topics for us,” Vucic said.

However, the Serbian leader took issue with the term “negotiation” used by Grenell in his tweet.

He said that Serbia’s position was to talk to the other side, not the state, although the United States, the Brussels administration, and most European Union countries see Serbia and Kosovo as two independent states.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 — a move recognized by a vast majority of countries, including the United States, but not by Belgrade and Russia.

Washington stepped up its involvement in Serbia-Kosovo negotiations late last year with Grenell’s appointment. Analysts say his efforts have all but sidelined the European Union from the normalization process between the two former foes that Brussels had been mediating since 2011.

The EU-brokered talks have produced multiple agreements seeking to normalize relations in the region, although many of them have not been implemented.

Nabila Massrali, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs and security policy, welcomed Grenell’s announcement, but reaffirmed Brussels’ center-stage role in talks to normalize ties between Kosovo and Serbia and bring them closer to the 27-member bloc.

“The path to the European Union for Kosovo and Serbia leads through the EU-facilitated dialogue. The EU as the facilitator of the dialogue works since 2011 with Belgrade and Pristina towards a comprehensive normalization of their relations,” Massrali said in an e-mail to RFE/RL.

“When it comes to the involvement of third parties in efforts to help Kosovo and Serbia to agree on the comprehensive normalization of their relations, we welcome all initiatives in support of the EU-facilitated dialogue.

“In this regard, we take note of the announcement by Ambassador Grenell,” Massrali said.

Grenell’s announcement marks the second attempt by Washington to bring the two former foes face-to-face at the White House.

Hoti on June 25 abruptly canceled his participation in the White House talks with Vucic two days before their scheduled date, following Thaci’s indictment at The Hague for war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during or after the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

The Specialist Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) at The Hague said on June 24 that Thaci and other Kosovar officials “are criminally responsible for nearly 100 murders,” as well as the “enforced disappearance of persons, persecution, and torture.”

Thaci was a commander of the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK), an ethnic Albanian guerrilla group that fought against Belgrade’s security forces in the 1998-99 Kosovo war.

Thaci has denied involvement in any war crimes.

The Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague is currently reviewing the indictment to decide on whether to confirm the charges.

Thaci on August 14 hailed the announcement of the White House meeting.

“I welcome the announced meeting at the White House on negotiations between #Kosovo and #Serbia. We are grateful to the #US for the tremendous dedication to peace & stability in the region,” he tweeted.