" Interminable negotiations are maddening. But Kosovo should not boycott them. It must work with Washington to set terms for its continued participation "

By David L. Phillips

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" Interminable negotiations are maddening. But Kosovo should not boycott them. It must work with Washington to set terms for its continued participation "

By David L. Phillips

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Western Balkans and EU News
16.08.21 | Opinions

[Opinion] : The Architecture of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue needs upgrading: A more robust role for the United States


" The ASM (Association of Serb Municipalities) agreement, which the GoK (Government of Kosovo) considers as a code word for fragmentation and disfunction, should be rescinded "

" Interminable negotiations are maddening. But Kosovo should not boycott them. It must work with Washington to set terms for its continued participation ".

By David L. Phillips

Martti Ahtisaari, the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize recipient and UN special envoy, told me he never undertook a negotiation without knowing the outcome. The outcome of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue will surely be mutual recognition. However, the way forward is uncertain.

The goals of dialogue must be clearly established: strengthening Kosovo’s independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Serbia must accept that it lost Kosovo, as a result of Milosevic’s crimes. Kosovo has been recognized by more than 110 countries. It will never rejoin Serbia.

Serbia is playing a long game, hoping that the international community will tire of Kosovo and disengage. President Aleksandar Vucic wants Kosovo Albanians to surrender Kosovo’s independence and pledge fealty to Serbia. This wishful thinking is delusional. It will never happen.

Thirty-three agreements have been reached since the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue was launched in 2011. Previous agreements focus on confidence building measures such as diplomas, areas codes and license plates. However, Serbia has stonewalled implementing existing agreements. Serbia must fulfill its commitments. The EU should conduct an implementation review of 33 existing agreements, determine their status, and assign responsibility for obstruction.

Implementing these agreements will build momentum towards addressing core issues. Meanwhile, the GoK must focus on state-building and economic development in order to meet the needs of its citizens and garner greater support from the international community.

Negotiations cannot ignore emotional issues such as the fate of missing persons. More than 1,600 Kosovo Albanians went missing during the war. I interviewed a mother in Djakova who mourned the disappearance of her son. Serbia must acknowledge the crimes it committed, offer an accounting of missing persons, and provide mortal remains so that bodies can be buried properly. A compensation fund should also be considered.

 Serbia demands implementation of the Association of Serb-Majority Municipalities (ASM), which was adopted in 2015 by two-thirds of the Kosovo Assembly at the urging of President Hashim Thaci. ASM has now become a flash-point for controversy. Kosovo already has robust measures protecting and promoting minority rights, established by the Ahtisaari principles and enshrined in Kosovo’s constitution. The ASM agreement, which the GoK considers as a code word for fragmentation and disfunction, should be rescinded.

 The architecture for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue needs upgrading. The EU lacks credibility as a mediator. Five EU Member States refuse to recognize Kosovo, including Slovakia, the homeland of the EU’s Miroslav Lajcak. Josep Borrel, the EU High Representative, is from Spain, which also refuses to recognize Kosovo.

The EU pledged visa liberalization for Kosovo once it resolved border issues with Montenegro. Years later, visa liberalization still has not been implemented. Until the EU fulfills its commitment on visa liberalization, it lacks credibility as a mediator.

The mediation architecture is flawed. President Joe Biden strongly believes in trans-Atlantic cooperation. Multilateralism requires US leadership; it is not an excuse for inaction. To raise the level of US participation and signal the seriousness of Washington’s commitment, I have called for the designation of a US Special Presidential Envoy to the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue.

Dialogue cannot be open-ended. It needs a deadline. When Senator Gorge Mitchell negotiated the Good Friday Agreement between Britain and Northern Ireland, he told the parties he was leaving at midnight and they needed to have an agreement by then. Setting a deadline focuses the mind and can precipitate an outcome.

Years were wasted debating border adjustments. Swapping territories was always a bad idea, and it still is.

 According to Prime Minister Albin Kurti, the GoK places priority on jobs, justice and the COVID-19 pandemic. He questions why Kosovo should negotiate with Serbia when it has already achieved independence.

 Interminable negotiations are maddening. But Kosovo should not boycott them. It must work with Washington to set terms for its continued participation.

To negotiate from a position of strength, Kosovo should take steps to enhance its democracy by strengthening the rule of law. Kosovo needs an economic development plan based on manufacturing and agro-industries. Its economy cannot thrive on foreign aid or remittances. To advance, Kosovo should focus on a high-tech economy and regional economic integration. It should develop new economic partners, expanding the agreement on mutual recognition with Israel and broadening economic cooperation. To help address global warming, Kosovo should wean itself of coal and develop clean energy alternatives.

It is time for Kosovo to move on from its past. The UCK played a critical and honorable role liberating Kosovo from Serbia’s tyranny. More than two decades after NATO’s intervention, the era of post-war UCK political leadership is ending. It is time for a new generation of Kosovars to assume more prominent roles.

Accountability is critical to addressing the past -- and moving forward. The Kosovo Specialist Chambers and Specialist Prosecutor's Office can be an effective instrument of accountability. However, it should not focus exclusively on Kosovo Albanians. For credibility, the Special Court should also address crimes committed by Serbs.

Corruption has a corrosive effect on democratic development. No Kosovo Albanian is entitled to personal enrichment for sacrifices made by society as a whole. As we have seen from recent events in Albania, no one can escape scrutiny when corruption is involved.

The Kosovo-Serbia conflict is often called a gordian knot. However, Martti Ahtisaari believes that no problem is intractable. Even the most difficult problem can be solved with creativity and patience.

Kosovo is still in transition, consolidating its democracy after decades of occupation. Mutual recognition with Serbia will unleash Kosovo’s potential, enhancing benefits to both Kosovo and Serbia, as well as the region.

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Mr. Phillips is Director of the Program on Peacebuilding and Human Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the US Department of State during the Clinton, Bush and Obama administrations. These remarks of his were presented at the forum organized by the Diplomatic Academy of Kosovo : “Kosovo’s Foreign Policy – a Proactive Approach” on 23 June 2021.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of dtt-net.com.

16.08.21 | Opinions