On August 13, the ‘Quint’ group of countries – France, Germany, Italy, the United Kingdom and the United States – issued a strongly-worded press release urging Serbia and Kosovo to restart their EU-led dialogue and to cease placing obstacles in the path of normalising their relationship.
The Quint was specific about those obstacles: “For Kosovo, that means suspending the tariffs imposed on Serbia. For Serbia, that means suspending the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo.”
The statement said that if Serbia and Kosovo signalled a willingness to compromise, to remove those obstacles and to resume discussions, then the Quint would be “prepared to step up our role in the process in support of the EU High Representative [mediating the Kosovo-Serbia talks in Brussels]”.
All well and good, but haven’t we heard this before?
Ever since the dialogue stalled after Serbia succeeded in thwarting Kosovo’s bid for membership in Interpol last autumn and Kosovo’s former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj immediately retaliated by imposing a 100 per cent tariff on Serbian goods, we’ve been hearing similar entreaties repeatedly.
Yet neither side has budged, and the mutual recriminations have persisted. Indeed, Serbia’s Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, in an interview with Pink TV, was quick to criticise the Quint statement as unbalanced in favour of Kosovo.
He claimed that it said nothing about the Quint countries being willing to stop their lobbying efforts in favour of Kosovo’s independence as a quid pro quo for Serbia stopping the de-recognition blitz. And he said that Serbia will continue its campaign of de-recognition because it’s working and because it’s touching a nerve with the international community.
Unfortunately, Dacic has shown himself to be a one-man wrecking ball when it comes to improving relations with Kosovo; he is a big part of the problem, not the solution.
And Haradinaj has proven stubborn regarding the tariff which has not been helpful, but he recently resigned as prime minister after being invited for an interview at the new war crimes tribunal in The Hague as a suspect.
Nevertheless, Dacic did make some interesting comments in that interview about the strong support for US President Trump among the Serbian people: “No one was as happy as the Serbs to see Donald Trump win the presidential election [and defeat Hillary Clinton] – because the Serbs can’t stand Clinton and Albright.”
Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright, of course, led the NATO bombing campaign against Serbia during the spring of 1999.
Kosovo also values its relationship with the Trump administration, as President Hashim Thaci and Haradinaj have repeatedly stated.
This dynamic suggests the possibility of a bold, new approach to normalisation. Maybe it’s time for the EU to step back and let the US take a leading role.
Despite its best efforts, the EU has been unsuccessful in resuming the dialogue, so perhaps the time has come for a fundamental recalibration.
President Trump’s interest was aroused last fall when he weighed into the discussion by imploring both sides to take advantage of the historic opportunity to achieve a lasting normalisation agreement. And he also offered to invite both President Thaci of Kosovo and President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia to a Rose Garden ceremony if they were successful in doing so.
But bolder action from the US is needed, given the utter lack of progress from conventional, EU-led diplomacy.
Given President Trump’s apparent personal credibility with both Kosovo and Serbia, he should intervene in a robust and proactive manner to move the talks forward, and to do so forthwith as soon as elections are held in Kosovo and a new government is formed.
I propose that President Trump call a summit involving the principal decision-makers from both countries, to be held in the United States, similar to the Camp David summit called by President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
That historic Camp David summit decades ago resulted in a peace agreement between Egypt and Israel that holds to this day. If Egypt and Israel could come to an enduring agreement following their armed hostilities and long-standing enmity, then there’s reason to hope that Serbia and Kosovo could do likewise, assuming the US played a similar role and did so with a firm hand.
As a precondition, once the summit was called, Kosovo’s new government would have to agree to suspend the import tariff and Serbia would have to agree to suspend the de-recognition strategy. These suspensions would continue while summit negotiations were underway.
President Trump could then be personally engaged with the principals while day-to-day negotiations were conducted under the guidance of National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The goal, of course, would be to hammer out the details of a sustainable agreement which recognises the legitimate interests of both sides. And, if successful, the summit would conclude with a lavish Ros