Pristina will have to lift the import tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia, and Belgrade will have to take some steps towards a compromise to resume the dialogue on the normalisation of relations, the US outgoing ambassador to Serbia Kayle Scott told N1 TV morning show on Tuesday.
He said he hoped that after Kosovo’s early elections on October 6, a new government would be ready to get back to the negotiations which had been on hold since last November after Pristina introduced the 100 percent import duties on goods made in Serbia and Bosnia in retaliation for Belgrade’s diplomatic offensive that prevented Kosovo from joining Interpol.
Serbia’s side then refused to talk further as long as the taxes were in force.
“It’s clear that there is a problem in Serbia about what the country would get from a compromise, (but) I’m convinced that the Government and President (Aleksandar) Vucic are ready to search for a compromise,” Scott said.
He added Kosovo’s politics was less flexible.
“I was an optimist it (the negotiation process) was going into the right direction a year and a half ago, but since last autumn it took a wrong path: Serbia’s campaign against Kosovo’s Interpol membership, Pristina’s introduction of tariffs, then Serbia’s Government’s decision not to negotiate further – that’s a negative cycle. It’s time to calm down and focus on both Serbia and Kosovo long-term interests,” the ambassador said.
If that happens, he says, “in the most optimistic scenario, we could expect the resumption of the dialogue before the start of the election campaign in Serbia.”
Scott praised Serbia for economic achievements and the growth of the foreign direct investments, adding that when he came to Belgrade, there were 17,000 workers in the American companies in Serbia, while three years on, the workforce grew to 20,000 people.
The ambassador said the fact that neither the authorities nor the people in Serbia ever accepted Kosovo as a sovereign and independent country was one of the significant issues in the country.
He added Washington had some influence on Pristina but could not decide on Kosovo’s destiny.
“Despite the US and the European Union pressure, the internal political dynamics go in favour of the tariffs, and the measure is very popular. Kosovo still believes it should insist on its independence and every attempt by Belgrade to question it make Kosovo’s people even stronger resist it,” Scott said.
He said that it was clear Pristina did not meet all its obligations from the 2013 Brussels Agreement, “but they (Kosovo’s officials) say Belgrade also did not fulfil all it was obliged to… The reality is that both sides should focus on what they had to do to make progress.”
Commenting on the appointment of Matthew Palmer, Scott said it was a consequence of Washington’s intention to stay in the region and play a more significant role.
Regarding the current political situation in Serbia with the opposition saying it would boycott the next spring general elections, Scott said some of the opposition’s remarks were founded, but that “the only way to check the support is to take part, not to, so to say, abandon the field.”
He said that as a foreign diplomat, he should not extensively comment on the internal affairs of the host country.
Scott added that despite the situation in media, the opposition had some room to express its stands in some dailies and weeklies, N1 TV, but also on social networks.
He recalled that during the rule of the late Slobodan Milosevic the election conditions were not fair, but that nevertheless he was ousted in the ballot.
Scott criticised the tabloids which, as he said, “reduce everything to the battle between the good and bad,” and mock people.
Commenting on the freedom of expression in Serbia, Scott said it existed but what was lacking was decency.
“We see people saying the most unbelievable things on social media, the things they would never tell anyone directly. That phenomenon exists in the US as well – the middle space is emptying, and more room is left to the extremes on both sides,” the outgoing US ambassador told N1 TV.