The United States Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Matthew Palmer, said in an interview to Radio Free Europe that the United States support the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. On the initiative of German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron, Palmer said he believes the initiative supports the Brussels dialogue. “We understand that the meetings in Berlin and Paris are designed to help the EU-facilitated comprehensive dialogue for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” he said. Palmer also said he expects Pristina to suspend the import tariff on Serbian goods so that dialogue can resume as soon as possible.
You have just returned from Serbia where you met key officials there and now you are in Pristina. Were you successful in convincing the two sides to return to dialogue?
We continue to support the EU-led dialogue. I think it is fundamental for the future of both countries, Serbia and Kosovo, and for them to find a way to normalize relations. Ideally this would mean mutual recognition and a path toward EU integration for both countries. Going back to the table is crucial in this regard. This means suspending the tariff, that is removing obstacles to progress. I believe that both sides are ready to meet again, but it is important to create the conditions to make this happen. We remain the key supporters of the process. There is no other way forward for Kosovo than dialogue with Serbia, the normalization of relations and we hope that this can happen as soon as possible.
From the U.S. standpoint, is lifting the tariffs an absolute condition to resume dialogue?
At this point we don’t see any other way forward. Whether it is right or not, that’s another matter, but the tariff has become an obstacle to progress. Kosovo is not winning in this way. In our view, tariffs are damaging to Kosovo’s strategic interest for the normalization and the European path. So, we encourage the authorities in Pristina to at least suspend the tariff so that the process can resume, to see if progress can be achieved and then see what we can do to move the process toward an agreement as soon as possible.
Do you see readiness in Kosovo’s society to suspend the tariff?
I think this is a decision that Kosovo needs to make based on the collective understanding of its most important interests. I understand that tariffs are very popular and we understand why, but we encourage people, both political leaders and voters in Kosovo, to see what is Kosovo in fact winning by this and what is has really caused in Kosovo. And if they look at this clearly, then I think they would agree with our conclusions that tariffs in reality are not helping Kosovo in its way forward.
Is “shuttle diplomacy” something that can be used to get the two sides back on the table?
I was just in Belgrade and now I am in Pristina.
Is this part of “shuttle diplomacy”?
We have talks with both sides in the process on how we can move forward. Ultimately it is not up to us to negotiate an agreement. Pristina will not negotiate an agreement with the U.S., it will not negotiate an agreement with Brussels, it must negotiate with Belgrade, find the way forward by returning to the table of dialogue and reach an agreement that advances Kosovo’s national interests.
Is Pristina asking the U.S. to be more involved in the process or perhaps in “shuttle diplomacy”?
We need to find a way to resume dialogue. The U.S. is committed to supporting the process. We have been greatly engaged from the beginning. We are ready to do more in support of the process, but we need to find a way to get the parties back on the table so that they can discuss fundamental issues.
The U.S. however is not as harsh as it was in the beginning when the tariffs were introduced. At the time, you cancelled several visits to Kosovo, Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj did not attend the Prayer Breakfast in Washington because of visa issues. Has something changed meanwhile?
People get overly analytical with minor developments. The U.S. supports Kosovo. Kosovo is our partner and we are a strategic partner for Kosovo. Having said that, there are limitations in terms of what the U.S. can do to help Kosovo, if Kosovo doesn’t help itself. So in terms of dialogue with Serbia, natural consequences of blocking the process of dialogue will manifest by themselves, without the U.S. having to be harsh in any way. Kosovo won’t be able to move forward and as I’ve said in my public addresses yesterday, if Kosovo doesn’t move forward it will slip backwards. Kosovo must help itself by doing what is necessary to return the process and to move forward.
Do you think Belgrade is using the tariffs as an excuse to block the dialogue?
I don’t think it is useful to comment if this is an excuse or not. What I try to do is to understand the political reality on both sides, whether it is fair or not, or right or not, tariffs are an obstacle to progress. Progress is fundamental to Kosovo’s interests. Tariffs are preventing this from happening. When tariffs are suspended or lifted, there is an open area of issues that Belgrade and Pristina must negotiate. So this wouldn’t solve everything, but it would allow the parties to return to the table, re-engage and work on resolving issues together with the European Union and with the engagement and great support from the United States.
Let us talk about the final agreement. On the 20th anniversary of the Kumanovo Agreement, the White House sent a message to both sides to work on an agreement that would focus on mutual recognition. Given the circumstances, do you think this is possible? What is the mood in Serbia, is Serbia willing to recognize Kosovo’s independence?
I think there can be an agreement between Pristina and Belgrade. I think it is absolutely possible if the parties sit at the table, have good-will negotiations, to find the way forward on an agreement that is good for both countries. I cannot say what this agreement is, I cannot say what its elements are. For the United States, it would be ideal to see mutual recognition as the core of an agreement, an agreement that puts both countries on a European path. Negotiations are needed to reach this point.
U.S. President Donald Trump, in his letters to the Presidents of Kosovo and Serbia, said that the U.S. is willing to assist in reaching an agreement that balances the interests of both countries. Does the U.S. have red lines when it comes to a final settlement between Kosovo and Serbia?
The U.S. is not ready to only sign off on any agreement between Belgrade and Pristina. What we are saying is that we want to see an agreement that is sustainable, fair and implementable, an agreement that can be explained and embraced by the public in both countries. If we have any concerns on specific issues of an agreement, we will identify those concerns and work with the parties to address and resolve them. But like I said we would like to have this problem because it would mean that the parties have resumed the talks. We would want to see this.
If a final agreement involves the border, partition, correction, or border delineation or whatever it is called, will the U.S. support such an agreement?
Border delineation is a sovereign right. This is something that Kosovo controls and decides on. If Kosovo decides to discuss an issue that is its sovereign right, and decides to discuss border delineation with Serbia, this is Kosovo’s choice. We support the negotiating process between Kosovo and Serbia and engagements for the full normalization of relations. This means that any agreement must be multidimensional, to have its political components, security components and certainly components of culture, economy and trade. It is up to the parties to decide whether this will include the border demarcation between Kosovo and Serbia. As far as the U.S. is concerned, we want to see a process that is supported by both sides in the talk.
In parallel with the Brussels process, there is an initiative by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emanuel Macron, also aimed at trying to find a solution. How does the U.S. view the initiative? Kosovo’s President said he was surprised by the fact that the U.S. was not aware of the Berlin Summit and he added that Paris can bring more. How does the U.S. view the initiative, and do you have any information if the Paris summit will be held and if you will be involved?
We support every effort by our European partners aimed at pushing the process forward. We understand that the meetings in Berlin and Paris are designed to help the EU-facilitated comprehensive dialogue for the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia and that they are trying to create conditions to resume the process. If this is a mechanism that can help the two sides reach an agreement, then the U.S. fully supports it. We are working closely with the partners, not only with the EU as an institution, but also with individual member states, including Germany and France. We hope this process will give its real contribution and we will support it.