Former foes Kosovo and Serbia on Friday agreed to normalize economic relations in a deal brokered by the US, which US President Donald Trump’s administration touted as a major diplomatic success.
The two sides signed a statement in the White House Oval Office committing to a raft of measures to improve transport infrastructure and border crossings, cut trade tariffs, and share energy and water resources, as well as to implement earlier agreements on opening highway and rail links.
They also agreed to improve their relations with Israel. Serbia would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, while Kosovo, a majority Muslim country, would formally recognize the Jewish state.
In turn, Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, gained formal recognition from Israel.
“A truly historic day,” Trump said, with Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic sitting beside him in the Oval Office. “By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a real breakthrough on economic cooperation across a broad range of issues.”
Trump praised US Special Presidential Envoy for Serbia and Kosovo Peace Negotiations Richard Grenell for bringing the two sides together, two decades after they fought a war that left 13,000 dead.
“It took decades because you didn’t have anybody trying to get it done,” Trump said of the agreement.
“There was a lot of fighting and now there’s a lot of love,” he said. “Economics can bring people together.”
Because they do not formally recognize each other, the two sides appeared to sign parallel statements of intent rather than a formal bilateral agreement, but a Trump administration official stressed that it was a pact between the two sides.
“They have normalized their economic relations,” US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said. “The Serbia-Kosovo conflict has gone on for decades. They have been stuck, unable to move forward for many, many years.”
Hoti said that the deal was “a big step” toward the two sides granting each other formal diplomatic recognition.
Serbia has refused to recognize its former territory since Kosovo declared independence.
Although many countries, including the US and European powers, recognize both, Serbian allies China and Russia have withheld their endorsement of the Kosovo state, preventing it from joining the UN.
However, Vucic said that the Serbians had struck a bilateral agreement “with the US,” so that no recognition was given to “third party” Kosovo.
“We will have a common market, no more surprises with the tariffs,” he added.
The agreements include significant help in economic and infrastructure projects from the US Export Import Bank and the International Development Finance Corp.
Hoti put the value of the US support at more than 1 billion euros (US$1.18 billion).
“There is a clear commitment from President Trump and his administration that all these projects begin to be implemented within a year,” Hoti said.
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