Webb: Serbia and Kosovo move forward ... with the help of the United States

Webb: Serbia and Kosovo move forward ... with the help of the United States
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From February 1998 to June 1999 the world watched in horror as forces from the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia (modern Montenegro and Serbia) and the Kosovo Albanian rebel group known as Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA) clashed. Diplomacy alone failed and resulted in significant NATO bombings of Yugoslavia from March to June of 1999. Yugoslav and Serbian forces agreed to withdraw from Kosovo in accordance with the Kumanovo Treaty. But the war resulted in more than 13,000 deaths, nearly 1.4 million Kosovo Albanians being displaced and, after the war, more than 200,000 Serbs and other non-Albanians escaping Kosovo. Serbia became known as the European nation with the most internally displaced persons and refugees in Europe.

As a result of continuous, and sometimes heated, negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, the United States brokered the latest positive step last week in moving the two nations closer together with the signing of a document which is intended to normalize economic relations between the two countries. Two days of high-level talks with leaders named President TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance MORE, Aleksandar Vucic, Avdullah Hoti, Robert O’Brien and Richard GrenellRichard GrenellA judge's Monsanto ruling affects both the law and the economy CNN's Tapper tried to talk GOP candidate out of running against Democratic incumbent: report Nobel prize committee's credibility is on the line MORE played a major role in moving toward the ultimate goal of peace in the Balkans. But it is important to recognize the behind-the-scenes efforts by governments, non-governmental entities and individuals to build trust between individual leaders and nations that ultimately lead to successes like the one we saw last week.

Over the past five years, I have had numerous conversations with William Parker regarding the relationship between Serbia and Kosovo as well as the larger complex issues in the Balkans. From 2015-2020 Parker served as the chief operating officer, and later the CEO, of the EastWest Institute (EWI) which has focused on conflict prevention for more than 40 years.

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EWI held high-level Balkans dialogues in March 2019 in Belgrade, Serbia, in December 2019 in Berlin and finally in February at the Munich Security Conference. These dialogues always included heads of state and the most respected diplomats and experts. It is these track two dialogues (between government and nongovernment entities), often lead by organizations like EWI, which build trust and eventually lead to track one dialogue (government to government) like the one we saw in the White House last week.

Parker said of the White House meeting, “This is another significant step towards peace in the region. Simply having the leaders of these two nations in the same room (whether in Berlin, Belgrade, Munich or Brussels) is important. Getting them in the Oval Office with the president of the United States is remarkable. And seeing a formal signing of economic normalization is extraordinary and speaks highly of private and public leaders in the U.S., Serbia, Kosovo and beyond. While this is another very important step, we have more work to do before normalizing relations in the Balkans and full recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.”

Over the past 20 years, the European Union and the United States have worked feverishly at times to bring these two previous foes closer together. The 2013 Brussels Agreement was the first real move towards normalization. And while neither head of state signed the agreement, normalization efforts between the two nations began. Serbia did not, however, recognize Kosovo as a sovereign state as was hoped for.

Behind the scenes, many believe the most important result of the 2013 Brussels Agreement was paving the way for eventual membership in the European Union. Conversely, many argued that the use of the term “normalization: was too vague and hard to measure.” In 2015, additional agreements between the two nations provided for agreements on telecommunications and justice issues. Efforts in Brussels, and elsewhere, have continued since the 2013 agreement. But clearly, this latest U.S.-brokered economic agreement is a major step towards lasting peace. And who gets the credit is less important than how citizens of Serbia, Kosovo and the region are positively impacted.

When asked who was ultimately responsible for this latest important step towards recognition between two former enemies, Parker stated, “That is a very long list. The heads of state, including our president, the special envoy and numerous ambassadors all deserve credit. There are also many who quietly played major roles in bringing these two nations closer together by building trust and offering potential solutions. It is more important to get the job done and ensure we can repeat the process elsewhere in the world. Who gets the credit is insignificant. But the president and his team should be appropriately acknowledged for getting this latest effort across the finish line.”

Webb is host of “The David Webb Show” on SiriusXM Patriot 125, host of “Reality Check with David Webb” on Fox Nation, a Fox News contributor and a frequent television commentator. His column appears twice a month in The Hill.