„President @realdonaldtrump once again led us to an historic victory. Kosovo and Serbia today signed an agreement to create the first direct flight between Pristina & Belgrade in 21 years. Thank you @lufthansa, @NATO, @robertcobrien and the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia,” US Ambassador to Berlin and the envoy of Donald Trump for the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue, Richard Grenell tweeted today.
In his later tweets he thanked separately to Hashim Thaci, Aleksandar Vucic and Ana Brnabic and Lufthansa. Although very active in tweeting Grenell has not tweeted on the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue much until today. He even found the time to reply to journalist Cristina Maza on her tweet
— Richard Grenell (@RichardGrenell) January 20, 2020
The Serbian Ministry of Economy, whose delegation attended the signing in Berlin, confirmed Grenell’s announcement, adding that it was a „letter of intent“ from Lufthansa Airlines to establish this Pristina-Belgrade flight route. Previously, the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Kosovo, Eset Berisha also confirmed that this agreement was signed today.
Earlier in the day, the head of the Kosovo Office, Marko Djuric suddenly announced that such a possibility existed, waiting for the “good news” to arrive from Berlin but claiming at the same time that the dialogue may resume only after the taxes are abolished.
The news of the agreement came as a surprise given that the Belgrade-Pristina dialogue has not been visible in the public domain for two years now. The very idea of introducing this flight route is not new though.
Almost three years ago, the Serbian government formed a task force to address the issue, intending to re-establish the Belgrade-Pristina line.
During the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in this period, the Serbian side tried to initiate a solution to this issue, but Pristina refused to do so on the grounds that the establishment of the Belgrade-Pristina flight could only be discussed in Brussels, instead of at the chamber of commerce level, as Belgrade attempted to do. Pristina officials also claimed that this is not an „economic“ but a „political“ issue.
Three years later, the dialogue was blocked, while, according to Grenell, „US President Donald Trump once again led us to a historic victory.“
„Taxes need to be abolished for the flight line to come to fruition“
The Serbian Ministry of Economy said it was the first symbolic step towards re-establishing air traffic between the two cities.
„Rebuilding the Belgrade-Pristina airline would facilitate travel and communication for citizens of all nationalities and bring Pristina and Belgrade closer,” the ministry wrote in a statement published on the Kosovo Office website.
The same ministry said it was a „purely commercial letter of intent“, underlining that it „shows Serbia’s clear commitment to promote the free movement of goods, people and capital and oppose artificially imposed barriers and restrictions.“
In order for this agreement to come to fruition, it is necessary to reach appropriate technical agreements with KFOR in the forthcoming period relating to normal air traffic procedures, as per applicable domestic regulations and UNSCR 1244.
In accordance with UN Security Council Resolution 1244 and the Kumanovo Military Technical Agreement, KFOR is responsible for the control and coordination of airspace over southern Serbian province.
„In order for the flight between Belgrade and Pristina to truly come to fruition, it is imperative that the Kosovo government immediately abolish anti-civilized 100% taxes on goods from central Serbia and BiH, begin implementing a number of undertaken commitments and return to the (negotiating) dialogue table under the auspices of the EU,“ the ministry emphasized.
„A step towards full normalization of Kosovo airspace“
At a ceremony held at the US Embassy in Berlin, representatives of Lufthansa Airlines, in the presence of Ambassador Richard Grenell, handed over a letter to the Civil Aviation Authority of Kosovo informing them of their „intentions“ and asking Kosovo institutions to „give them the support“ they needed for other flights, Pristina-based news agency Kosovapress reports.
The Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority of Kosovo, Eset Berisha said that the re-establishment of the Pristina-Belgrade route represents a step forward in Kosovo’s commitment to fully normalize Kosovo’s airspace, Beta reported.
„This establishes contact between the two civil aviation authorities, Kosovo and Serbia, as equal partners,“ Berisha said.
News of plans to open the Belgrade-Pristina lines has been praised by Pristina, Belgrade and international officials.
Kosovo President, Hashim Thaci welcomed the establishment of the Pristina-Belgrade flight line. He also described this move as another step towards normalizing relations between Belgrade and Pristina.
The outgoing Kosovo Prime Minister, Ramush Haradinaj also reacted to the news, tweeting:
“The initiative to open Kosovo’s third civilian air route for commercial flights with Serbia, after Albania and Macedonia, is a giant step forward in advancing good neighborly relations and consolidating Kosovo’s sovereignty.”
The well-known publicist and journalist Tim Judah also welcomed this move. Judah, however, expressed doubts that this will happen “for years.”
“The greatest beneficiary will be Air Serbia because Belgrade has become an important regional hub,” he tweeted.
“This is an important step, which will make the circulation of people and goods easier and faster within the Western Balkans region,” NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg said, emphasizing:
“The Commander of our KFOR mission retains the authority in the airspace over Kosovo, according to United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244. And NATO will remain involved through the long-standing Balkans Aviation Normalisation Meeting process, which we lead.”
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