TIRANA – The U.S. has high expectations for a European Union-sponsored plan aimed at easing long-standing tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, a senior U.S. State Department official said Tuesday.
Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar told an online news conference that both countries, as well as Europe, would stand to benefit from the stability the plan would usher in.
“Our expectations are very high to this agreement and I think what’s new is not only the seriousness of both governments but the seriousness of our European partners to make this happen in the shadow of one of the biggest crisis Europe has seen since the WW2,” Escobar replied to an Associated Press question.
On Monday, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti gave their tacit approval to the EU plan to end months of political crisis and help improve bilateral ties.
The agreement stipulates that both countries would recognize their respective documents and national symbols, and respect their independence, autonomy and territorial integrity, the right of self-determination, the protection of human rights, and non-discrimination.
They have agreed to deepen future cooperation in the fields of economy, science and technology, transport and connectivity, judicial and law enforcement, health, sport, environmental protection and missing persons.
Both countries want to join the EU, which has told them that they first need to sort out their differences. The agreement says they will not hamper each-other’s steps to join the bloc.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell has said that “more work is needed” and that the two leaders would meet again next month.
Tensions have simmered between Serbia and its former province since Kosovo unilaterally broke away in 2008. The declaration of independence was recognized by many Western countries but opposed by Serbia, with the backing of Russia and China. EU-brokered talks between them have made little headway in recent years.
Recently, those tensions flared over seemingly trivial matters like vehicle license plate formats, or the arrest of an ethnic Serb police officer, triggering fresh concern among Western leaders that a new Balkan conflict might break out just as Russia’s war in Ukraine enters its second year.
The EU has mediated negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo since 2011, but few of the 33 agreements that have been signed were put into action. The EU and the U.S. have pressed for faster progress since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year.
Serbia and Kosovo have confirmed their obligation to implement all past dialogue agreements.
In recent months, U.S. and EU envoys have visited Pristina and Belgrade regularly to encourage them to accept the new proposals, and the two leaders met with senior EU representatives on the sidelines of a major security conference in the German city of Munich earlier this month.