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U.S. Says Kosovo And Serbia Could Be Close To Normalizing Relations

The U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, has voiced optimism that an agreement on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo could be reached this year.

Escobar is on a two-day trip to Serbia as part of U.S. diplomatic efforts ahead of a March 18 meeting between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Ohrid, North Macedonia.Vucic and Kurti are scheduled to discuss ways to implement an EU normalization proposal they agreed on in Brussels last month.Escobar told journalists in Belgrade on March 16 that he believes an agreement between the two sides could be reached this year."I think it is completely possible," Escobar said, adding that the EU proposal is primarily an agreement on normalization and not on Serbia's recognition of Kosovo's independence.

Serbia and Kosovo fought a war in 1998-1999 that ended when NATO bombed Serb forces.Kosovo declared its independence from Belgrade in 2008 and has since been recognized as a sovereign nation by most countries, including the United States and most of the European Union's 27 members. Serbia and its traditional ally, Russia, however, have yet to do so.

"The American position is that Kosovo is an independent state with territorial integrity and sovereignty. We also believe that the region would benefit from mutual recognition, but that's not what this is about," said Escobar.The EU normalization proposal, previously known as the Franco-German plan, does not oblige Serbia to formally recognize Kosovo's independence, but the two countries would recognize each other's documents, such as passports, diplomas, and license plates.Under the plan, Serbia would also not object to Kosovo’s membership in any international organization.

The plan also provides for the parties to implement all the agreements reached so far in the normalization dialogue, including the one for the formation of the association of municipalities with a Serbian majority in Kosovo.Asked if he expects official Belgrade to agree with Kosovo's entry into international institutions, such as the United Nations, Escobar said that the European agreement encourages greater integration not only of Kosovo, but also of Serbia in all international processes."We definitely want them to be connected to all European structures. This means that we would like to see Kosovo in the process of European integration," said Escobar.On March 15, U.S. Ambassador to Kosovo Jeffrey Hovenier said the EU proposal on the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia marks a "significant" step forward and that a comprehensive agreement appears within reach.On the same day, Germany's envoy, Jorn Rohde, said he was confident all EU countries that have not recognized Kosovo will do so if Belgrade and Pristina come to an agreement in Ohrid.Five EU member states -- Greece, Spain, Romania, Slovakia, and Cyprus -- have yet to recognize Kosovo's independence.


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