Serbia-Kosovo agreement results from Trump’s different brand of diplomacy

Sep 6, 2020

President Aleksandar Vučić of Serbia and Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti of Kosovo took an enormous step toward a long-term resolution of their historic conflict on Friday morning. At the White House, under the auspices of President Trump, President Vučić and Prime Minister Hoti signed a brokered commitment to achieve economic normalization between the peoples and governments of Serbia and Kosovo.

Ever since 2017, the U.S. position on the Serbia-Kosovo conflict has been that steps toward economic normalization will dilute the power and importance of the dispute’s hot-button political matters. The parties have agreed to construct a roadway and railway link between their respective capitals, Belgrade and Pristina. They have committed to a joint feasibility study on options for linking the rail infrastructure to a deep-sea port in the Adriatic. Both parties will work with the U.S. International Development Finance Corporation and Export-Import Bank to support these projects and provide financing for small and medium-sized enterprises. All these agreements will enable a more free and efficient flow of people and goods across the border between Serbia and Kosovo.

As for the border itself, Serbia and Kosovo have agreed to open and operationalize the Merdare Common Crossing Point facility, to recognize each other’s diplomas and professional certificates, and to join the “mini-Schengen zone” announced by Serbia, Albania and North Macedonia in October 2019. It soon will be easier than ever for Serbs and Kosovars to live, work, trade and study in each other’s’ neighborhoods, companies and universities.

Perhaps most importantly – for the people on the ground, the parties involved in the negotiations, and for the history and future of the region – is the new agreement to expedite efforts to locate and identify the remains of missing persons from the war that ended only two decades ago. Both parties have pledged to identify and implement long-term, durable solutions for refugees and internally displaced persons, and each has committed to identifying a point of contact to lead these efforts within their respective government ministries, coordinate between the capitals and provide an annual update on the number of cases resolved and pending. The agreement also implements a one-year moratorium on Kosovo’s search for new membership in international organizations, and a one-year moratorium for Serbia’s de-recognition campaign against Kosovo – two of the biggest open wounds in the conflict that are now on the path toward resolution.

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