Kosovo must urgently engage with Serbia. The US fully supports the European proposal, the achievement of a legally binding agreement, but also the implementation of all previously undertaken commitments, calling on Pristina to form the ASM in accordance with the Kosovo constitution, a senior advisor at the State Department, Derek Chollet, said in a joint interview yesterday for a group of media teams, including KoSSev. Chollet did not set deadlines, noting however that this is a step that should be taken with great dispatch. At the same time, he claims that the Kosovo government will put „some proposals regarding this issue“ on the table.
Chollet, together with the envoy, Gabriel Escobar, led the US delegation visiting the region.
On Wednesday, they met with the Kosovo Prime Minister, the President, the opposition leaders, representatives of civil society, and members of Srpska Lista.
Chollet revealed that he is satisfied and optimistic following yesterday’s talks, stating that they also spoke to Kosovo Serbs about their rights.
He emphasized that the US relationship with Kosovo remains very strong and that his country shares the vision of Kosovo as a „sovereign, independent, prosperous and multi-ethnic“ country.
Given that this is Chollet’s first official visit to Pristina as a State Department advisor, he recalled the last time he visited the region in the 1990s, as part of the team of the then assistant secretary of state, Richard Holbrooke.
According to him, Kosovo, like the US, should now „celebrate diversity“ and establish policies that deliver for all Kosovans, regardless of their ethnicity.
However, he admits that there are many challenges ahead of Pristina, but also that the US does not want to see all that has been achieved since 1999 “squandered.”
“We don’t want to see all that great potential, which I think is real, unrealized. I think that working together, the US supporting the EU-led effort, working with our friends here in Pristina, who’ve remained very good friends of the US, we think that we can chart this positive future for all people of Kosovo.”
He added that the US shares the vision of Kosovo’s full integration into the Euro-Atlantic and European structures.
We look forward to the government of Kosovo putting some proposals on the table
The US officials confirmed that there is no deadline for the final agreement between Belgrade and Pristina.
On the other hand, they emphasized that they expect Kosovo to fulfill all its obligations, including the formation of the ASM, noting that it is a ratified agreement and an „international obligation“.
“We look forward to Kosovo fulfilling all of its commitments under the dialogue which include establishing an Association of Serb-majority Municipalities,” Chollet stressed.
In his words, the ASM is an urgent issue on the dialogue agenda, announcing that the Kurti-led government will “put some proposals on the table.”
“It has taken even greater importance after the recent events in the north. It’s that request to take actions on the ASM that we’ve made to the government, we’ve said it privately, we’ve said it publicly. It’s a message I reiterated today. We look forward to the government of Kosovo putting some proposals on the table.”
He underscored that this body should be in accordance with the Kosovo constitution.
“I just want to be very clear that we would not and that we do not support a Republika Srpska-like arrangement and we’re not asking Kosovo to support any arrangement that is not consistent with its constitution, and 2016 Constitutional Court decision.”
He revealed that they heard once again during yesterday’s talks that the ASM is very important for the Kosovo Serb community – “as a way to ensure that their voices are heard, their rights are fully protected.”
“This is something – the establishment of the ASM – that we’ve been advocating at all levels of the government to implement and we’ve been talking to stakeholders about this and we will continue to do so.”
When asked about a timeframe to form the ASM, the US official replied:
“I don’t want to put a timeframe on it, other than that we believe that this is a step that should be taken with great dispatch.”
At the press conference yesterday, Escobar also highlighted the importance of forming the ASM, citing that it obligates Kosovo, Serbia, EU – which facilitated it, and due to the US support – it’s also its commitment.
When asked to comment on his previous allegations on alternative partners on the ASM issue, Escobar revealed that he spoke to civil society members, multiethnic groups, and think tanks that “invest a lot of effort to figure out how this would work.”
“Those are the partners I’m going to start looking to help us create some ideas and demystify and ease some of the apprehension that people may have about having this agreement come to life.”
He also underlined that the formation of the Association should not “undermine Kosovo’s functionality” or be in conflict with its constitution or laws.
We are at a very critical moment, Kosovo and Serbia should be engaging urgently
Chollet emphasized that the US supports the European proposal and the EU-led dialogue.
“The US fully supports this dialogue, and the reason why we wanted to come here today was to show that support. And we have been in close touch with our European colleagues.”
He specified that new talks should be held as soon as possible and that there are no prerequisites for a meeting between the Prime Minister of Kosovo and the President of Serbia.
Sooner rather than later
Although he says that he does not have an exact date of the new meeting, noting that the dialogue is being led by European partners, Chollet added that he expects a new meeting to take place soon – an issue he will discuss with the Serbian president in Belgrade today.
On the other hand, he shared positive impressions after the talks with Kurti and Osmani, and said that the Pristina officials expressed a „strong desire“ to join the talks.
“But we are at a very critical moment, we believe. We believe that Kosovo with Serbia should be engaging urgently with the EU-facilitated dialogue that’s working toward a comprehensive agreement on normalized relations centered on mutual recognition.”
He added that there are no deadlines to conclude a legally binding agreement between the two countries.
„It is an urgent matter, but we do not set deadlines or dates,“ said Chollet.
The security situation in the North is concerning
After the latest tensions in the north of Kosovo, Chollet admits that the situation has worsened and that there is now a security vacuum.
„The security situation in the north is concerning. We heard that from civil society, and politicians. Judges, prosecutors, and police officers who walked off their jobs and that is a concern. We talked about the ways we could be a support in trying to unwind that and get folks back to their jobs,“ Chollet said in response to a question from the editor of the KoSSev portal.
On the other hand, he announced that they call on both Pristina and Belgrade governments not to take new steps that could lead to bigger crises. He clarified that there must be no provocations.
„That would be very bad, but it would also divert us from the efforts of the European Union, which we fully support, towards normalization that’s rooted in mutual recognition,“ Chollet reiterated.
He specifies that less energy should be spent on crisis management.
We want to expand our energy, the US diplomatic energy on working towards that Euro-Atlantic future for Kosovo. We’d like to spend less of that energy on crisis management
“We have to break this cycle of stagnation diplomatically that we have been in. And I think it’s time for us to get down to the work at hand… We want to expand our energy, the US diplomatic energy on working towards that Euro-Atlantic future for Kosovo. We’d like to spend less of that energy in crisis management, in careening from crisis to crisis.”
He announced that he would share the same message with Belgrade today.
The idea of Mitrovica as a duty-free zone may be part of the final agreement
Gabriel Escobar recently floated the idea of turning Mitrovica into a duty-free zone. When asked by the KoSSev editor to elaborate on the idea, he repeated that he believes Mitrovica has a lot of potential for economic development and that the area becoming a duty-free zone would improve the lives of citizens.
When asked to confirm whether this would be part of what is presented as the final agreement, Escobar replied affirmatively.
The people of the north of Kosovo feel isolated and under pressure, he added.
“Maybe there are ways that we can look at those opportunities that are created, at that economic potential to open Mitrovica up to the region, and make it a point where people in the region, particularly from Serbia and Kosovo, can look for ways to work together toward a common goal, which is economic development, brighter future, especially for the next generation.”
He added, however, that in order to do so they first have to get past the current crisis
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