The lasting effects of the economic cooperation between Kosova and Serbia, the significance and implications for both countries, the impact of the Russia, China influence in the region, the very important task of the Albanian-American community now.
Through the mediation of US President Donald Trump and Acting Director of National Intelligence Richard Grenell on September 4, in Washington, Kosova Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vučić agreed on economic cooperation. Since Serbia refuses to recognize Kosova’s independence, the parties did not sign any bilateral agreements but concluded separate deals with the United States. I conversed with Agim Nesho, the former Albanian diplomat in New York, who, for nearly a decade, served as Permanent Representative of Albania to the UN. He said that the meeting of September 4th brought Balkan affairs back into focus in the US. In his view, “it amounted to an important event rather than a round of negotiations intent on improving long-term relationships between two countries. The Economic Stabilization Agreement between Kosova and Serbia signed at the White House signifies a foreign affairs victory for the Trump administration more than an effort to address the issue of mutual recognition. Rather than projecting the diplomatic strategy implemented by the US, the summit was a high-level meeting pursued by the Balkan leaders.” Mr. Nesho noted that the normalization of relations between Kosova and Serbia was meant to be an act of mutual recognition of the two countries not a reframing of the issue. “The essence of the message by the presidential candidate Biden states that Kosovo should be an independent country, not a part of Serbia.” Agim Nesho, whose term as Albania’s Chief of UN Mission in New York coincided with time of the adoption of UN Resolution 1244, said “the position of Kosova has been set by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1244, adopted on 10 June 1999, after recalling resolutions 1160 (1998), 1199 (1998), 1203 (1998) and 1239 (1999). “This position was furthered by the processes that resulted in the independence of Kosova. It is a closed case as far as history is concerned! Serb nationalists’ insistence to revisit the case is fueled by the drive to give Serbia a win-win at Kosova’s detriment. They perpetrated a frozen conflict in Mitrovica as grounds for going into renegotiations by any means necessary. Through powerful lobby groups in the US, they put forth the idea of “border adjustments in the Balkans”. Unfortunately, the suggestion seemed to have been supported by some leaders in Albania and Kosova. Europe rejected it while John Bolton expressed approval in principle pending agreement by Kosova and Serbia. Soon after the proposal was discarded at Berlin talks, and the Balkan leaders demanded to have Washington as mediator, Ambassador Grenell stepped in. The initiators of the project approached him. Given the administration’s spotty strategic policy in the region Ambassador Grenell had not assumed the role of the negotiator rather a pusher of the issue on Washington’s behalf. Therefore, rather than a solution for the region, the event of September 4th was a product of the Trump’s administration foreign policy. In terms of the criticism voiced by members of the Albanian American community about Grenell’s expertise on the region and his negotiating skills, Mr. Nesho said that “rather than being part of the US Foregn Service establishment, Ambassador Grenell is a loyalist of President Trump, who has considerable ability to negotiate matters of interest on behalf of the Administration, where he plays his part. He is proficient in serving the President and the Administration’s program of renegotiating issues in the face of the new global developments.”
In order to ask the next question about the potential consequences of the agreements for the region, I summarized the deal:
-Kosovo lifts bans on the supply of Serbian goods, guarantees the safety of the Serbian Orthodox Church, restrictions on the supply of Serbian communities, refrains from joining international organizations for a year, and renounces claims for the Gazivode reservoir and the hydroelectric power plant in the territory adjacent to Serbia.
-Serbia agrees to Kosovo joining its visa-free agreement with Albania and North Macedonia. Belgrade and Pristina resume transport links and, in exchange for Washington’s mediation, move their embassies in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, recognize the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, and refuse to use Chinese equipment for 5G mobile networks. In response, Israel will recognize the independence of Kosovo.
According to Mr. Nesho, “the economic cooperation between Kosova and Serbia started in 2011 as one of the conditions that Serbia has to satisfy, leading to recognizing Kosova, prior to accession with the EU. The world politics and international relations of 2016 reignited Serbia’s hopes to up its demands. Serbia’s initiative is backed by Russia that views the Serbia-Kosova conflict as a type of quid pro quo in settling its own issues in Georgia and Ukraine. Grasping the level of difficulty of reaching a political agreement mediated by Washington, Ambassador Grenell focused on the economic deal between two countries. The States acted as a connecting link and guarantor of the agreements. Since the Kosova delegation was prepared for only one option, namely the mutual recognition, the Serbian side got the upper hand in terms of economic influence in the Balkans, as Kosova lifted bans on the supply of Serbian goods, renounced claims for the Gazivode reservoir and the hydroelectric power plant. Most damaging item is Kosova’s refraining from joining international organizations for a year.” Mr. Nesho cited reports and confirmations that item number 10 on a draft agreement covered the issue of mutual recognition. “As these things go, it was placed there to make Vucic feel good for scrapping it.” On the question of tariffs imposed by Haradinaj government, Mr. Nesho commented that although they do impact the economy, it might not be an effective tool in dealing with the troubling Serb nationalism. “In my judgment, the administration’s engagement of Serbia dhe Kosova was important in securing the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and a second agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. The letter signed by President Trump on September 4 reinforced this idea. The cooperation of the Arab countries with Israel could impact the influence of Iran, Russia, and Turkey in the Middle East.” I asked him to consider whether the implementation of the agreements may drive away the influence of Russia and China from Serbia and from the region. “Beginning in 2007, Serbia’s strategy has been to level the interest of the big powers: US, EU, Russia and China. Lately, it has seen an increase of economic activity with China, yet Serbia’s main priorities align with Russia, as its satellite in the Balkans,” said Mr. Nesho. He made the point that the Chinese investments will come into play in a later stage for Serbia’s expansion plans. “While the EU does not want to cultivate fractures in the West Balkans, the Rusia is currently investing in infrastructure, energy, defense and information technology. The interest is twofold: on one hand, the Balkans is useful in reclaiming its powers and on the other, it holds the advantage of destabilizing the safety of Europe.”
The former UN diplomat supports the view that Kosova’s strategic alliance and interest are with the United States and European integration. “As far as partnerships, Kosova should not be bothered by the reactions of Turkey and the Arab League.” On this point, Mr. Nesho argues that there are some sensitive items on the signed agreement such as the safety of the Serbian Orthodox Church. “It has been the position of the international community to defend Christian religion sites and symbols of faith. It is a huge mistake to refer to Kosova only as a country with a Muslim majority and not as a birthplace of one of the world’s greatest civilizations of Illyrians. To that point, Eleni (Flavia Julia Helena Augusta) who was of Albanian descent, known as the mother of Emperor Constantine the Great, was credited for building Chrsitian churches in Byzantium in the Eastern provinces that would cover today’s Serbia all the way to Israel. Albanians have embraced their rich heritage and live up to the values of Western civilization,” commented Mr. Nesho.
Lastly, with regard to the Albanian-American community, he said that the role in advancing the relations between our countries is more important now than ever. Presently Mr. Nesho serves as President of the Albanian Council on Foregin Relations. “The community rose up to meet the challenge in the late 1990s for Kosova’s liberation and independence. It should pick up its efforts now. Should November 2020 bring a second term for the Trump administration, there might come a situation in which the Kosovo-Serbia conflict would be put before the great powers that are historically prone to compromise. It is the responsibility of the community to advocate actively so that the accomplishments of the administrations under President Clinton, President Bush are not re-negotiated at Kosova’s expense.”
“In the end,” he said, “I wish to thank all the friends of the Albanian-American community. I have had the fortune of knowing them and the privilege of their support as we joined forces to advance our national interests. I wish continued success to the President of Vatra, Elmi Berisha, for his outstanding contribution leading up to and in the days after Kosova’s conflict to promote and bolster the US support for the Republic of Kosova. Also, I wish to thank you, Rafaela for your work with the free and democratic media in Kosova.”