President Donald Trump on Friday oversaw the signing of a landmark, U.S.-brokered deal between Serbia and Kosovo, with the two countries agreeing to normalize economic relations after decades of conflict, which special envoy Richard Grenell said was made possible thanks to Trump’s “outsider perspective.”
Trump looked on as Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti put their signatures on the Belgrade-Pristina agreement in the Oval Office, with Trump hailing the deal as “historic” and saying he looked forward to visiting the two countries soon.
“Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization,” Trump said. “By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough.”
Serbia’s president said in a tweet: “We reached a good deal & took a step forward. It’s essential to address these relations through an agreement coordinated with the world’s greatest power & to address the economy above all.”
Kosovo’s former prime minister and leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo, said in a tweet: “Kosovo is blessed by the friendship with the United States of America. This was once again proven today with the signing of the agreement led by the @WhiteHouse.”
Advisor to the President on Serbia-Kosovo Richard Grenell said at a press briefing that political talks between the two countries had been stuck for decades and in a bid to break the deadlock, Trump brought an outsider perspective and proposed to find areas of mutual agreement on economic matters and, from that, build towards a political understanding.
“The only way that this agreement could have happened is from an outsider,” he said. “All of the insiders in Washington said, ‘You’re not talking about recognition, you’re not talking about this symbolic word.’ And what we tried to do is ignore that and from an outsider perspective, go in and dig deep.”
Calling the deal “truly historic,” Grenell said that “the way that this came about is that the politics were stuck. Everybody knows that we’ve been fighting and talking about the same thing for decades. They have been fighting about the same symbolism, words, verbs, adjectives. It’s been a nightmare.”
“What President Trump said to me was, ‘They’re fighting politically about everything. Why don’t we give it a try to do something different and creative, why not try to do economics first and let the politics follow the economics,” Grenell said, adding that both sides proved eager to adopt this approach.
As part of the deal, Serbia agreed to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, while Israel and Kosovo, which has a large Muslim majority, agreed to mutual recognition.
Friday’s announcement came after two days of high-level talks among the leaders and senior Trump aides, and follows close on the heels of last month’s historic agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) to normalize relations.
Sceptics argue that while the deal may be an avenue for much-needed economic growth, Kosovo’s economy is too small to matter enough to Serbia for it to be enough of an incentive for Belgrade to agree to recognize Kosovar independence, a precondition for Serbia’s future membership in the European Union.
“No matter the scope of the administration’s economic deal unveiled this week, it will not transform relations between Serbia and Kosovo. Unlike the UAE’s and Israel’s matched economies, Kosovo’s economy is simply too small to matter to its larger neighbor,” wrote Edward P. Joseph, who served for a dozen years in the Balkans, including as Deputy Head of the OSCE Mission in Kosovo.
In an op-ed in Foreign Policy, Joseph argued that, “[a] standing U.S.-EU-NATO dialogue on sovereignty, territorial integrity, and human rights would strengthen international norms against secession, creating space for full recognition of Kosovo by all EU and NATO members. This would open the door for Pristina’s accession to NATO, circumventing the Russo-Chinese UN Security Council veto and closing the Kosovo question.”
Ethnic Albanian-majority Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 after a NATO-led bombing campaign to curtail ethnic warfare.
A top EU official on Monday said EU-led negotiations, which broke down in 2018 but resumed in July, could lead to a deal within months.
Reuters contributed to this report.