Balkan neighbors Serbia and Kosovo have reached a historic milestone, agreeing to normalize their economic ties, US President Donald Trump announced Friday.
Addressing reporters in the Oval Office alongside Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, Trump said the economic pact would serve as a springboard for further cooperation, describing the achievement as a unifying factor.
“Economics can bring people together,” Trump said during a signing ceremony sealing the breakthrough. “There was a lot of fighting and now there’s a lot of love.”
Neither Hoti nor Vucic commented on when a prospective wider normalization in bilateral relations when asked by a reporter.
Serbia refuses to recognize the independence that its former province, Kosovo, declared in 2008.
- Embassy move
The deal as the US brokered an agreement between Kosovo and Israel to normalize their relations and establish diplomatic ties. Serbia further agreed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem in September, and move its embassy to the contested city in July, Trump said.
The economic milestone comes at the conclusion of a two-day trip to Washington for the leaders organized by Richard Grenell, the US president's special envoy on Belgrade-Pristina dialogue.
The US meeting was planned for June 27 but was postponed after prosecutors in the Hague filed an indictment against Kosovar President Hashim Thaci for war crimes during Kosovo's 1998-1999 war with Serbia.
Most UN member states recognize Kosovo as an autonomous country. Belgrade, however, maintains that it is a breakaway province and has worked to roll back its recognition.
Both sides have agreed to freeze their diplomatic recognition/de-recognition campaigns for a year, Grenell said during the signing ceremony.
The European Union has been leading negotiations between the two sides for nearly a decade, a requirement for their progress toward European integration.
Washington, which has recently sought a role in the process, hopes that economic cooperation could help set them on the road for a normalized relationship.
Serbia's president on Thursday rejected a US proposal of mutual recognition with Kosovo, according to Belgrade's top diplomat.
With a Serbian delegation in Washington for two days of talks sponsored by the US aimed at improving relations between the two Balkan war foes, Vucic firmly turned down the proposal.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington