‘Historic’ Deal: Could Donald Trump convince Kosovo and Serbia to sign a Peace Agreement?

U.S. President, Donald Trump has made a direct appeal to the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia, urging them to make peace. The Trump administration is working to score what it hopes to be another foreign policy win, this time by encouraging leaders from Kosovo and Serbia to sign a Peace Agreement in a ceremony that could take place at the White House.

This demand from Trump came by the end of 2018, after Kosovo Government decision on raising taxes on Serbian, Bosnia and Herzegovina products to 100 percent and the decision to create the army.

The above-mentioned Government announced the new tariffs on November 21, two weeks after it decided to slap a 10 percent tax on goods from the two neighbouring states, drawing angry reactions from Belgrade and Sarajevo and calls from the European Union to revoke the measures. The move came a day after Interpol’s general assembly, for a third time, voted not to approve membership for Kosovo, the result of what the U.S. Embassy in Pristina said was “a campaign, led by Serbia, to pressure countries to oppose Kosovo’s bid.”

Official data showed that Kosovo imported some 400 million euros ($456 million) in products a year from Serbia and about 81 million euros ($92 million) in goods from Bosnia. Both these countries are complaining of huge losses since the entry into force of tax decisions.

In this regard, on the Kosovo Government decision on taxing goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, there was also a statement by High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Federica Mogherini. The High Representative underlined that the decision of the Kosovo Government to increase the tax on goods from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina by 100% only complicates the situation further and does not bring any solution to people’s problems or to Kosovo’s aspirations for its present and its future. She said that such measures do not help to build good neighbourly relations and needs to be revoked. But Kosovo Government made it clear that this decision will not change until Serbia recognizes Kosovo’s independence.

However, the tensions between Kosovo and Serbia increased more after Kosovo MPs voted to create a 5,000-strong standing army, a week after Serbia’s premier suggested the move could provoke military intervention by Belgrade. Legislation to transform the lightly armed Kosovo Security Force, which was created mainly for crisis response, civil defence and removal of ordnance from the 1990s conflict, into an army was approved by 107 deputies in the 120-seat assembly. Eleven minority Serb deputies boycotted the vote. Kosovo’s constitution mandates the creation of a national army but no action was taken for years while Pristina sought, in vain, to obtain the approval of Kosovo Serbs.

Seeing latest tensions, Trump sent letters to both, Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi and Serb President Aleksandar Vucic, asking they accelerate negotiations in an effort to resolve their impasse.

In the letter posted on Thaçi’s official page on December 18, Trump says, “Failure to capitalize on this unique opportunity would be a tragic setback, as another chance for a comprehensive peace is unlikely to occur again soon.

“The United States has invested heavily in the success of Kosovo as an independent, sovereign state,” the letter said.

Ongoing Trump said that the U.S. stands ready to assist and that he is looking forward to hosting the two presidents in the White House “to celebrate what would be a historic accord.”

Bringing the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia together for a White House ceremony would be seen as a major accomplishment.

One expert welcomed the increased U.S. attention on the Kosovo-Serbia issue, particularly in the context of the larger Balkans framework.

“The rising tensions between Serbia and Kosovo — and the way in which Serbia and Russia are working together to foment instability in neighbouring Bosnia – pose a real threat to regional peace,” said Daniel Baer, U.S. Ambassador to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, and advisor to Foreign Policy for America.

“Obviously, offering the White House as a setting is offering a big carrot, but if the administration can use that carrot to achieve a genuine peace between Serbia and Kosovo, including recognition of Kosovo by Belgrade, that would be a significant step forward.”

As known, since Serbia and Kosovo fought a bloody war that ended in 1999, relations have remained tense. Serbia never recognised Kosovo’s independence, declared in 2008. The independence has been recognized by more than 100 countries, including the United States and most EU members. However, Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as an independent state. Russia, China and five EU members take the same stance.

Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo have been engaged in years-long EU-backed talks, lead by Mogherini, to seal a permanent peace deal, which would open the path to eventual membership of the European Union for both countries. Prospects of a deal seemed to rise in August last year when Thaçi and Vucic appeared together at a conference in Austria. But the leaders also raised the possibility of changing borders, which provoked strong opposition in Kosovo and split Western powers.

Kosovo Government has established a negotiating team for talks to dampen President Thaçi’s role in this process, following his idea of territorial defiance, an idea that is not supported by Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj and the Government of Kosovo.

Now it’s left to be seen if Trump will succeed to convince Kosovo President and Serbia President to sign a Peace Agreement after last developments, such as changing borders, decision on taxes and creation of Kosovo Forced Army.