Stop the presses, hold the phones.
Maybe we have not reached an accord after all.
Only days after the press trumpeted that both Serbia and Kosovo had backed an 11-point plan that would eventually see normalization of relations between the two states—and even that “further discussions” were not necessary—both Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and US State Department Deputy Gabriel Escobar have doused the news with a cold dose of reality.
Vucic was perhaps the most blunt, saying that although completely rejecting the deal would make Serbia a “pariah state,” Serbia was open to all talks—apart from the recognition of Kosovo as an independent state and membership in the United Nations, as cited by n1info.rs.
This quite bluntly flies in the face of the supposedly agreed upon plan, which clear is at least a slow track for normalization—i.e. recognition of Kosovo as a state.
Vucic also once again repeated that the Community of Serb Municipalities (CSM) concept must be enacted—while adding accusations that Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti has repeatedly promised to his own constituents that this will never come to pass.
Which may well be a repeated harbinger of both sides remaining stuck.
True, a first reaction here may be that Vucic is simply telling the EU one thing—and maybe committing to this one thing—but telling his home audience another. While hardly admirable, this could be viewed as understandable, ,considering the tenuous current positioning of Serbia between the wants and needs of both EU and Russia.
That said, the US’s Escobar also raised his voice Feb. 3, in the wake of media coverage, noting that he was at the aforementioned talks and adding during a State Department Online Briefing that while there was an “agreement to move forward,” the “hard work of implementing” normalization still lies ahead.
This hard work also appears to include an annex to the general agreement, within which the key implementation points still must be hammered out.
Yet Escobar appeared to choose his words carefully during the briefing, stating the following:
“[…] We fully support and strongly support the EU-facilitated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo,” he ban, adding that “I do want to clarify that while we are very, very supportive of it, we are not a part of it. It is an EU-facilitated process, and it should be an EU-facilitated process.
He also noted the specifics of the nature of the key meetings on the agreement, noting that “it is true that, in consultation with our European partners, the governments of Serbia and Kosovo, the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo, agreed to move forward on an EU-produced proposal for normalization between the two parties,” but that “while it was an important step, the hard work of implementation, of agreeing to an implementation annex still remains, and we still want to see the two parties move forward on that on an expedited basis.”
Yet while noting that the agreement confirmed goodwill between the partners, Escobar appeared to differ in opinion from much of the media—and perhaps key EU politicians—when it came to what the agreement intends.
“[…] We wanted to make sure is we wanted to make sure that there was no confusion about our position on the European proposal on normalization,” he stated. “Now, this – the European proposal is not about mutual recognition; it’s about normalization. And we wanted to make it clear that that’s as far as this agreement goes.
“But just because we support this agreement at this particular time does not mean that we don’t believe that in order for the region to be healthy and to finally and fully emerge from the events of the ’90s – that we believe that all the countries of the region should recognize each other and have full relations, full and positive relations between each other.”
In short, it appeared that Escobar was walking quite a tightrope, adding the caveat that the US does appear to believe in “normalization” as has been voiced by the EU side, which would in other words mean mutual recognition.
Only perhaps… don’t be in such a rush.
“[…] We encouraged the word “eventual” to be added to the letters, so that people understand that we are not looking to change the draft of the European proposal, but that we are – we haven’t lost sight of what ultimately we’d like to happen in the Western Balkans.”
Which means, apparently, don’t anyone get their hopes up for now. On the other hand, as noted previously in Serbia Monthly, key moderators in the talks do appear to realize that political threats are unlikely to move the process forward.
“[…] Our expectation is that we won’t have to use sticks,” Escobar stated, adding “that we’ll use carrots to encourage them to move further along the process.
“And those carrots are quite clear as they move forward,” he said. “Not only do they bring the two sides closer to a peaceful and predictable relationship, but it opens more and more doors for the two sides to integrate more into European and transatlantic structures. So we’re going to start from there and hope that both sides are prepared to meet their obligations, should they come to an agreement.”
In other words, this is not going to be quick and painless. And a start to “implementation” will likely remain the CSM.
Photo of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken by U.S. Embassy Nigeria, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.