Trump Says Balkan Rivals Serbia, Kosovo Agreed to Economic Deal

U.S. President Donald Trump said that Serbia and Kosovo agreed to “economic normalization,” a step toward ending a two-decade old conflict but a deal that’s short of Belgrade recognizing its former province as an independent nation.

“My administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide by focusing on job creation and economic growth,” Trump said during a meeting with leaders of the two countries at the White House on Friday.

“I think they’re going to have a fantastic relationship,” he added.

His national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said that “as those economic ties grow there will be political solutions.”

The Balkans dispute has endured since the two sides fought a war beginning in 1998 and Kosovo declared independence from Serbia a decade later. It’s no closer to resolution despite years of struggle to find an agreement at the negotiating table. Kosovo demands recognition as a sovereign state, which Serbia refuses to give.

While pursuing “economic normalization” may help increase trade between the two nations, recognition remains the central issue. It has the ability to halt progress toward rapprochement, as when Kosovo slapped a 100% tariff on Serbian goods from 2018 to this year in retaliation to Belgrade’s efforts to deny it entry into international bodies including the United Nations.

U.S. officials are trying to test whether better economic links will lead to a breakthrough.

“Your commitment to stabilize the region and bring peace and prosperity into the region is something we appreciate a lot,” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Trump at the meeting.

But the initiative has irked the European Union, which is mediating between the Balkan neighbor. EU officials say the U.S. may seek a deeper agreement but that its efforts are aimed at scoring a quick diplomatic victory rather than resolving the standoff.

An earlier White House meeting was scrapped when Kosovar President Hashim Thaci was accused of war crimes, including nearly 100 murders, that he denies.

A deal that normalizes political ties is crucial for both Serbia and Kosovo to progress on the path toward EU membership, which they hope can end decades of economic under-performance and the exodus of millions of their citizens in search of better lives in richer countries.

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