US brokers economic breakthrough for Serbia, Kosovo
The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo agreed to normalize economic relations in a meeting at the White House with President Trump on Friday, with the Muslim-majority nations also notably agreeing to closer ties with Israel.
Trump lauded the development during a signing ceremony in the Oval Office, saying the administration has “made additional progress on reaching peace in the Middle East.”
As part of the U.S.-backed breakthrough in relations between the Balkan states, Serbia has agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem and Kosovo announced formal recognition of Israel.
Trump said that Serbia had “committed to opening a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and to move its embassy to Jerusalem by July.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti joined Trump at the signing ceremony Friday.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the move, saying “Kosovo will be the first country with a Muslim majority to open an embassy in Jerusalem,” according to Reuters.
The inclusion of new relations with Jerusalem follows Trump’s brokering of diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) last month.
The administration is pushing to have more countries formally recognize the Jewish State, particularly Arab and Muslim nations that have held off normalizing relations absent a political solution establishing a Palestinian state.
The president said in the Oval Office that there has been interest by several unnamed countries following the Israel-UAE deal.
National security adviser Robert O’Brien said that as part of the agreement between the two Balkan nations unveiled Friday, Serbia will pause efforts to lobby against Kosovo’s independence for one year while Kosovo will not seek admission to international organizations for one year.
The discussions between Serbia and Kosovo mediated by the United States were supposed to take place at the White House in June, but they were postponed after Kosovo’s president, Hashim Thaci, was charged with war crimes.
The summit had been arranged by Richard Grenell, Trump’s former ambassador to Germany who served for a period as acting Director of National Intelligence and is also serving as special envoy for Kosovo-Serbia talks.
Grenell, O’Brien, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner and Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) were present for the signing of the agreement in the Oval Office. Trump administration officials expressed hope that the economic normalization would pave the way for political normalization between the two Balkan nations.
Officials hailed the agreement as a breakthrough foreign policy accomplishment for the president, which comes just two months before Election Day.
Trump is facing a tough reelection battle against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, with polls showing Trump trailing the former vice president nationally.
O’Brien argued that, taken together with the recent peace agreement brokered between Israel and the UAE, and the deal between the U.S. and the Taliban announced in February, the development showed the success of Trump’s “peace through strength” foreign policy.
“You’re seeing a pattern here of the president being a true peacemaker,” O’Brien told reporters at a White House press briefing. “These things could only happen under a Trump administration and under the president’s leadership of peace through strength foreign policy and national security policy.”
Grenell championed Trump’s “outsider” approach to brokering the agreement between Serbia and Kosovo by focusing first on the economic relationship and rejecting ideas put forth by the foreign policy establishment.
“If we would have done the typical political thing and listened to all of the really smart people at NGOs and think tanks in Washington, D.C., we would not have this agreement,” Grenell told reporters.
David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the Trump administration is likely to increase the pace of unveiling diplomatic breakthroughs in the lead up to the election, as the president seeks to increase his foreign policy achievements and countries look to shore up political agreements with the U.S.
“The timing of these things tends to not be coincidental,” he said. “You have to look at the nexus point between the policy and the politics and this is what has also fueled speculation about whether there will be others as well between now and November.”
Another key point is what incentives the Trump administration will offer in an effort to announce new diplomatic relations, in particular with Israel.
Administration officials said that Trump did not sign any bilateral agreements with Serbia and Kosovo, that he only served as a witness to an agreement between the two states.
But their recognition of Israel, on the heels of Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi’s breakthrough in relations, raises the question of any new deals likely to follow from the White House.
The New York Times reported Friday that Netanyahu quietly condoned a plan for the U.S. to sell F-35 stealth fighter jets and armed drones to Abu Dhabi, despite public rejection that such a deal would threaten Jerusalem’s qualitative military edge in the region.
Trump said last month that the F-35 sale is “under review.”
“I think in the case of the Emirates, what we saw was a country that both wanted to simultaneously get whatever it could from the U.S. at a sensitive political juncture before an American election, and at the same time purchase political risk insurance for a post-Trump era because they don’t know how they’re being viewed on Capitol Hill,” Makovsky said.
Kushner, O’Brien and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East and Africa in recent weeks in an effort to encourage countries without diplomatic ties to Israel to open relations.
“It’s been a full blitz by the administration,” Makovsky said, “[and] tells you how the administration would like as many of these peace ceremonies between now and November as possible.”