The United States expects both Kosovo and Serbia to “fully implement” all of their obligations and commitments to normalized relations and mutual recognition.
Speaking to RFE/RL in an interview a week after EU-mediated talks between Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels, U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier warned both countries risk losing opportunities to progress in their goal of joining the bloc if compromises aren’t found.
“You have to give a little and get a little,” he said in the interview on September 20 in the capital, Pristina.
Serbia refuses to recognize its former province's 2008 declaration of independence, and tensions between ethnic Serbs and Kosovar institutions spilled over into violence against NATO peacekeepers in May after locals boycotted local elections in four mostly Serb municipalities in northern Kosovo.
Kurti and Vucic met on September 14 for talks in Brussels, which went nowhere according to EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.
He said Kurti was "not ready to move forward" with setting up an association of Serb-majority municipalities that would give Serbs living in Kosovo's north more autonomy, a goal approved by Pristina a decade ago under the EU-sponsored Ohrid agreement with Belgrade.
Hovenier said parallel steps could be taken by both Pristina and Belgrade to ensure progress toward the goal of mutual recognition, but that the association of municipalities is key for getting the process moving forward.
"We could spend a lot of time on who does what, when exactly and in what order. But let's be honest, at the end of the day both things need to happen. Kosovo has got to start moving forward with the association," he said.
“That has to be among the very first steps…. There's an urgency to this. We also do look to Serbia to fulfill its commitments under the Ohrid Agreement,” Hovenier added.
In a statement on September 19, the EU diplomatic service complained about a "lack of progress from both parties in de-escalating tensions in the north of Kosovo."
It called out Pristina for expropriations, evictions, and using special forces for routine policing, while it blamed Belgrade for "blocking the energy roadmap" and other actions.
The statement came a day after Kurti accused Miroslav Lajcak, the EU's special envoy for dialogue between Pristina and Belgrade, of "taking a position" against Kosovo.
Hovenier said Lajcak “enjoys strong confidence” from Washington and he hopes the government of Kosovo will work with the designated representatives of the EU to achieve their strategic goals.
“The United States supports normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which is what the Ohrid agreement is supposed to do, as a really important step toward our longer-term goal of mutual recognition,” he said.
“But we think this is what is achievable right now. And it needs to happen, because without it, Kosovo's path toward Europe is constrained.” (RFERL)