Deputy Assistant State Secretary Gabriel Escobar is currently visiting Belgrade, where he held discussions with President Aleksandar Vucic on the European proposal for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia.
Escobar emphasized the importance of the upcoming meeting between Vucic and PM Kurti in Ohrid on March 18, which will be chaired by Josep Borrell. Escobar referred to the encounter between Vucic and Kurti as a “meeting of the minds,” a turn of phrase coined during the Serbia-Kosovo talks, and expressed hope that both leaders would work towards making the Serbia-Kosovo normalization agreement a reality.
According to DAS Gabriel Escobar, “from the United States perspective, we think that this agreement presents one of the best opportunities for the region to move forward in creating peaceful conditions for all of the people in the region, and we do want both sides to be very, very serious in looking at the opportunities and looking for ways to be flexible, constructive, and visionary in taking advantage of this opportunity that’s being presented.”
While the European proposal primarily aims for “normalization” rather than “mutual recognition,” the American position remains firm, with Kosovo being considered an “independent country with territorial integrity and sovereignty,” and mutual recognition seen as beneficial for the region.
Escobar emphasized the benefits of the Serbia-Kosovo normalization agreement for economic and political integration into the European Union for all six countries of the Western Balkans.
When queried about the desired outcome of the high-level meeting in Ohrid on March 18, Escobar remarked that he would like the conclusion to recognize the Association of Serb majority municipalities as an “important part of the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo.”
Escobar clarified that when he talked about the Association of Serb majority municipalities as a requirement, “I don’t mean to be confrontational or putting out some sort of challenge. It is a fact that the association appears in the Brussels agreement. It appears in this agreement. It is part of the European Council’s conclusions. It is the policy of the United States. So it will happen. The question is how quickly it will happen?”
US Deputy Assistant Secretary emphasized that the Association of Serb majority municipalities would strengthen the position of Serbs in Kosovo and that the European Union leaders had provided PM Kurti with multiple examples of how similar models work within the European Union to provide rights for self-management and self-government of minorities without creating tension. Prime Minister Kurti so far has been a staunch opponent of the implementation of Serb majority municipalities.
“The possibilities of both sides seeing the advantages of an agreement that brings peaceful relations between Serbia and Kosovo are very high,” according to Escobar. “The people of the region absolutely need it. And more than anything else, the people who need it more than anyone else are Serbs in Kosovo. They are always at the center of confrontation. They’re always at the center of tension, and it is psychologically and economically damaging to the population there.”
What happens then if on March 18th in Ohrid the parties involved fail to move forward?
“What happens in the event that we don’t have a meeting of the minds if we don’t have an agreement— and by agreement I mean, broad understanding of the way forward, I don’t necessarily expect that we will have a signing of some sort, but we will have a path forward,” said Escobar. “I don’t want to dwell on the negative aspects of if it doesn’t happen. I want to dwell on the possibilities. If we do start to move down that road, the possibilities will be extremely beneficial for the region,” noted Escobar.
“This agreement is not something that should be feared. Our hope is that it doesn’t fundamentally change anybody’s life, but rather provide some level of stability and peace between the people of the region. It’s not our intention to create the new barriers. Quite the opposite.”
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