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US confirms Serbia-Kosovo summit off after war crimes indictment

Soldiers of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo near Leposavic, a mostly Serb municipality in Kosovo, in December 2018 - STR / ©AFP
Soldiers of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo near Leposavic, a mostly Serb municipality in Kosovo, in December 2018 - STR / ©AFP

(AFP)

The United States has postponed a White House summit due Saturday between Serbia and Kosovo on easing tensions after Kosovo’s president was indicted on war crimes.

President Hashim Thaci scrapped his trip to Washington after prosecutors in The Hague announced a slew of charges related to the veteran leader’s role in Kosovo’s 1998-99 war with Serbia.

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Kosovo’s new prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, had been due to fill in but said Thursday that he needed to stay in Pristina in light of the situation.

“Thank you, Prime Minister Hoti. We understand your decision and we look forward to rescheduling the meeting soon,” Richard Grenell, the US envoy leading diplomacy between Serbia and Kosovo, wrote on Twitter.

No new date was set for the White House summit, with barely four months to go before US elections.

Some analysts said that President Donald Trump was hoping for a late-term foreign policy victory through the summit, although Trump himself was not set to participate and is spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf resort.

Grenell, an outspoken former ambassador to Germany and US intelligence chief, had earlier said that the talks were aimed at normalizing economic relations between Serbia and Kosovo rather than bringing a broad political settlement.

Belgrade refuses to recognize Kosovo’s independence, which it declared from Serbia in 2008 and in practical terms has maintained since the 1990s after NATO intervened in a war that claimed 13,000 lives. 

But Serbia’s historic ally Russia as well as China — along with several nations within the European Union — reject the independence of Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.

Grenell has denied speculation that he was trying to negotiate land swaps between Serbia and Kosovo, which maintains a Serb minority.

Until the White House initiative, the European Union had been in the forefront of diplomacy between Serbia and Kosovo but talks had broken off more than a year ago.

Hoti, who took office in May, has sought to ease tensions by ending a ban on Serbian imports.

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