Donald Trump hopes for election boost from Kosovo-Serbia talks

White House summit irritates EU diplomats, who say deal brokered by them is near

The leaders of Kosovo and Serbia will meet at the White House on Thursday and Friday, in an encounter that some see as a push for a diplomatic win for Donald Trump to brandish during his re-election campaign.

Kosovo’s prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, will meet with the Serbian president, Aleksandar Vučić, in talks that Trump aides say will be primarily about economic issues between the two countries, but may pave the way to a broader deal.

The goal of the talks is “to create economic development that will then somehow change the dynamic amongst the political class”, said a senior adviser to Trump in a call with reporters earlier in the week. The adviser said it was not yet clear whether Trump would take part in the meetings – suggesting he would only meet the two leaders if there is a deal to be signed.

Kosovo broke from Serbia after a war and Nato bombing campaign, and declared independence in 2008, but the two sides have no relations.

The White House diplomatic push, led by the Trump loyalist Richard Grenell, has irritated some European diplomats, who say the EU’s long-running mediation process should be given priority.

It has also prompted fears that a land swap could be on the table as part of the deal, which many believe would have knock-on effects in other parts of the Balkans. Grenell has long denied that a land swap is under consideration.

Grenell, who has courted controversy as Trump’s ambassador to Germany and then as acting director of national intelligence, has also attracted criticism for his negotiation tactics. In April, Kosovo’s ousted prime minister Albin Kurti accused Grenell of mounting a coup to overthrow him so he could present Trump with a diplomatic success in an election year. “My government was not overthrown for anything else but simply because Ambassador Grenell was in a hurry to sign an agreement with Serbia,” said Kurti.

A meeting at the White House planned in late June fell apart at the last minute after prosecutors at a court in The Hague announced they had filed a draft indictment against Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaçi. The statement was released as Thaçi was already en route to Washington.

Now, two months before the US election, the meeting will finally take place, with the emphasis on economic progress.

“We can either sit around and continue talking about political issues that get us nowhere, or we can do something that President Trump thinks might work, and we’re going to test it to see if it works,” said the Trump adviser.

The EU-brokered talks were on hold for two years after Kosovo imposed import tariffs on Serbian goods, but have recently resumed. Meetings in Brussels, including expert dialogue and top-level discussions, are planned for next week.

The EU envoy for Kosovo-Serbia talks, Miroslav Lajčak, has said an EU-brokered deal to normalise relations between Belgrade and Pristina could be ready soon.

“Let’s see how much time we need, but I am speaking about months, I am not speaking about years,” he said at a forum in Slovenia this week. “Both parties are committed, both parties are serious, respecting each other.”


Shaun Walker Central and eastern Europe correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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