President Donald Trump announced Friday that Serbia and Kosovo have normalized economic ties as part of U.S.-brokered talks that include Belgrade moving its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem.
After two days of meetings with Trump administration officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti agreed to cooperate on a range of economic fronts.
The announcement provided Trump with a diplomatic win and furthers his administration’s push to improve Israel’s international standing.
“I’m pleased to announce a truly historic commitment,” Trump said in the Oval Office, standing alongside the two leaders who signed an economic cooperation agreement. “Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization.”
“After a violent and tragic history and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide. By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough,” the president said.
Trump said Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and move its embassy there in July.
Serbia’s decision to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is a nod to both Israel and the United States.
The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the U.S. embassy there in May 2018.
In a rare statement issued after the start of the Jewish sabbath, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked the president of Serbia for moving the embassy to Jerusalem. He confirmed that Israel and Kosovo will establish diplomatic relations and said Kosovo also will open its embassy in Jerusalem.
Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, has never before recognized Israel, nor has Israel recognized Kosovo.
“Kosovo will be the first majority-Muslim country to open an embassy in Jerusalem,” Netanyahu said.
“As I’ve said in recent days, the circle of peace and recognition of Israeli is widening and is expected to add additional countries.”
In all, a total of four countries now recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including the U.S. and Guatemala. The Palestinians claim east Jerusalem as their would-be capital.
The gestures to Israel are part of the Trump administration’s push to support the Jewish state.
Most recently, the administration brokered a deal for Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalize relations. That was followed by the first commercial flight between Israel and the UAE, with neighboring Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to allow such flights to pass through their airspace.
Additional Arab states, including Sudan, Bahrain and Oman, have been identified as countries that may soon also normalize relations with Israel.
Kosovo’s Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Most Western nations have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not.
The ongoing deadlock and Serbia’s unwillingness to recognize Kosovo have kept tensions simmering and prevented full stabilization of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.
“These were difficult talks for us, but I’m truly satisfied,” Vucic told Serbian reporters in Washington.
He stressed that the economic agreement does not include “mutual recognition” between Serbia and Kosovo. But he hailed the talks as a victory for Serbia and a step toward closer ties with the U.S.
Hoti described the economic cooperation as a “huge step forward” in the relationship and said the two leaders were committed to working together.
Serbia and Kosovo have already approved air, rail and transit agreements, including one that would clear the way for the first flight between the two countries in 21 years. The new agreement comprises many more areas of economic cooperation.
In Kosovo, President Hashim Thaci hailed the deal and thanked Trump. In a statement posted on social media, he said Kosovo should continue to seek membership in international organizations.
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