Following the recent collapse of the Brussels talks between Kosovo and Serbia, Richard Grenell, the former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo convened a virtual press conference Friday morning at America First Policy Institute.

Grenell said that he is “concerned” that Kosovo’s PM Albin Kurti rejected all EU and US ideas and urged President Biden to “step up” and “bring forward the American leadership that is so needed in the Balkans.”

KURTI SAYS “NO”

Speaking to The Pavlovic Today about the need for President Biden to make a timely appointment of the Special Presidential Envoy for Kosovo and Serbia, Grenell said that POTUS needs to appoint someone he can trust. 

 “It’s very important to have somebody who can walk into the Oval Office, who enjoys the relationship with President Biden, and implement a policy that President Biden sees as viable and a good solution.” Grenell said, “There are plenty of individuals within the foreign policy community that have that gravitas, that have that ability to walk into the Oval Office, that Joe Biden values,” said Grenell. “Those people should raise their hand and volunteer.”

Asked by The Pavlovic Today if he thinks there is still time for Biden to appoint someone by September 1, 2022, Grenell’s answer was affirmative.

“There’s plenty of time. When there is American leadership, it can move pretty quickly,” said Grenell. “But we’ve got to move away from robotic statements from the State Department,” he added. “What we need right now is diplomacy with muscle,” Grenell remarked in the context of mounting tensions in the Western Balkans.

President Joe Biden delivers remarks on the Supreme Court ruling to overturn Roe v. Wade, Friday June 24, 2022, in the Grand Foyer of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

“We need to stop mocking tough diplomats because what we’ve seen, certainly with Ukraine, is that when diplomats fail, then, we have war and conflict. And now is the time to send in some tough diplomats, American diplomats who will say to both sides, ‘You have to compromise. What are some ideas that we can put forward?’ I can think of three or four ideas,” said Grenell. “But this needs to be something that the Biden White House engages in, and puts their stamp on this,” he added. “Joe Biden is the President and he needs to step up and push forward solutions in the Balkans.”

Diplomacy is not a one-way street

PM Albin Kurti’s attempt to deprecate Serbian license plates and IDs, making them no longer valid in Kosovo—initially planned to be instituted on August 1, 2022, but postponed until September 1—has played a significant part in escalating tensions between Pristina and Belgrade. Grenell called on Biden to “step in and push for a solution” to have a mutual acceptance of license plates and “move on.” 

The Brussels Talks, August 18, 2022. From left to right: Albin KURTI (Kosovo), Miroslav LAJCAK (EU Special representative for the Dialogue and other Western Balkan regional issues, Slovakia), Josep BORRELL FONTELLES (High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, EEAS), Aleksandar Vucic (President of Serbia, Serbia) /Photo: European Union

Grenell said Kurti’s idea “has not been vetted with the Europeans or the Americans.” According to Grenell, Kosovo’s decision to ban Serbian license plates and IDs is a “unilateral move” by Albin Kurti.

“This is not a good idea, especially when you look at the region and how tenuous it is right now. With conflicts around in Europe, I would call upon Albin Kurti, to negotiate a way forward. He’s got to come forward with ideas and negotiate. This is not a one-way street.” 

What we need right now is diplomacy with muscle.

Richard Grenell

Grenell said that “Kurti is a tough negotiator” and that Kosovo’s PM is “correct that we need to concentrate on cleaning up corruption in Kosovo.”

What’s missing from Albin Kurti’s messages, observed Grenell, is a “recognition that it’s been 20-plus years since the conflict.” Grenell said PM Albin Kurti “needs to stop acting like he’s in the opposition and criticizing everything and start acting like the leader he was elected to be. He needs to come forward with ideas. But what happened yesterday is he rejected every idea from the EU, every idea from the US, every idea from the Serbian side. And that’s not good.”

Grenell added that the Serbian delegation, led by President Aleksandar Vucic, “also needs to understand that compromise is key here.” He called on the Serbs “to have patience” by stressing that given the “huge” size of Serbia’s economy, “in many ways, they have more to lose.” 

Details Of Grenell’s Talks With Chancellor Merkel

Grenell’s criticism of PM Albin Kurti is well known, but the former Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo spoke about the areas where he finds Kosovo’s PM positions “reasonable.” Grenell commended PM Kurti for refusing to make a compromise with the EU over the “visa liberalization” program.

“We know that that is a promise that won’t be fulfilled,” said Grenell. 

Angela Merkel, former German Chancellor (Photo EPP, Public Domain)

Former Ambassador to Germany revealed for the first time the details on the liberalization visa regime he had in the past with then Chancellor Angela Merkel. “I personally know after talking to Chancellor Merkel and her team that the Germans committed that there would be visa liberalization, that some visas would be given to the region. Once Chancellor Merkel told me that to my face, we followed up. We pushed the Germans and Brussels to try to fulfill that promise. And all these years later, the promise of these visa liberalization has not been fulfilled,” Grenell revealed. “So Albin Kurti is right to be skeptical of that promise.”

Joe Biden is the President and he needs to step up and push forward solutions in the Balkans.

Ruchard Grenell

Grenell said that the Europeans “have got to realize that when they make promises, they need to deliver.” Grenell asked the EU to create a “better path” towards an “honest assessment” of when countries in the Balkans are meeting their commitments towards EU membership or to reject their application “outright and not try to fake this process.” 

Grenell suggested that the negotiation team for Serbia-Kosovo talks concentrate on economic development and job creation for young people.” The politics will then follow,” said Grenell. 

“It seems we’re in this trap once again, just sitting down with politicians talking about politics. And after 20 plus years, we need to learn the lesson that this is not working,” Grenell shared his point of view. 

“I would call upon the negotiators to understand that sitting down and trying to hammer out politics is not going to be the solution,” Grenell concluded, urging for substantial American involvement in Serbia-Kosovo talks.

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The Pavlovic Today has reached out to the White House and NSC with a question regarding the President’s plans, if any, to appoint the Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, and we will follow up with a story as we learn more. 

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Ksenija Pavlovic McAteer

Ksenija Pavlovic is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of the Pavlovic Today, The Chief White House Correspondent. Pavlovic was a Teaching Fellow and Doctoral Fellow in the Political Science department...

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