Serbia, Kosovo commit to EU talks on normalizing ties

International

BRUSSELS (AP) — The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo committed Monday to European Union-brokered talks on normalizing their strained ties and appeared to play down the importance of a surprise announcement last week by U.S. President Donald Trump that they are beefing up economic cooperation.

Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti said “that they attach the highest priority to EU integration and to continuing the work on the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue which is a key element of their respective EU paths.”

In what was described as a “joint statement” issued by the office of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Vucic and Hoti also said they “committed to redoubling their efforts to ensure further EU alignment in accordance with their respective obligations.”

The two said that “the recently agreed documents in Washington, D.C., building on previous Dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalization of relations.”

The statement was released ahead of a round of talks between them, chaperoned by Borrell, in Brussels.

In an unexpected announcement Friday, Trump said that Serbia and Kosovo had agreed to normalize economic ties as part of U.S.-brokered talks that include Belgrade moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, and mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo.

“I’m pleased to announce a truly historic commitment,” Trump said in the Oval Office, standing alongside the two leaders. “Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization.”

“After a violent and tragic history and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide. By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough,” he said.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, around a decade after Belgrade sent troops into its former territory to crush an uprising by ethnic Albanian separatists. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s statehood, and tensions have simmered ever since.

The EU-facilitated negotiations, which the Europeans say is the only way to address their membership aspirations, started in March 2011 and have produced some 30 agreements, but most of them have not been observed.

The talks stalled in November 2018 and only resumed in July after a parallel U.S. negotiating effort began.

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