Serbia-Kosovo deal cements Trump’s claim to foreign policy success

Serbia-Kosovo deal cements Trump’s claim to foreign policy success
U.S. President Donald Trump (C) participates in a signing ceremony and meeting with the President of Serbia Aleksandar Vucic (L) and the Prime Minister of Kosovo Avdullah Hoti (R) in the Oval Office of the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. (AFP)
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Updated 08 September 2020

Serbia-Kosovo deal cements Trump’s claim to foreign policy success

Serbia-Kosovo deal cements Trump’s claim to foreign policy success
  • Until now the EU has mediated political talks between Serbia and Kosovo that have made little headway
  • The Sept. 4 deal is a second major achievement for the White House after the UAE-Israel normalization

CHICAGO/ABU DHABI: Serbia and Kosovo, two nations that were once part of the former Yugoslavia, appear to be gingerly ending more than two decades of bitterness and antagonism, if a ceremony held at the White House on Sept. 4 is any guide.

US administration officials looked on as the leaders of the two countries signed an “economic relations” deal brokered by President Donald Trump. Alluding to the UAE-Israel rapprochement, Trump claimed the agreement had created another “normalization” between two warring nations.

The White House event was originally scheduled for June but was postponed after an international court indicted Hashim Thaci – the Kosovo president who was to have led his country’s delegation – for war crimes dating back to the 1998-1999 conflict.

The EU has mediated political talks between Serbia and Kosovo for more than a decade. The Trump administration’s effort is a parallel diplomatic initiative focused more on economic development.

Business leaders in both Serbia and Kosovo had been holding informal meetings among themselves to come up with ways to promote investment. These negotiations, conducted in different formats and on different levels, gained momentum when Trump appointed Richard Grenell, the combative former US ambassador to Germany, as his special envoy in October 2019.

A significant outcome of the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue was a deal in January on restoring commercial flights between Belgrade and Pristina, followed in February by an agreement to resume rail services. The Sept. 4 White House-brokered deal could provide the shot in the arm that the region’s business community needs.

While more negotiations are obviously required, the agreement does give Trump bragging rights as yet another foreign-policy triumph in the final weeks of his re-election campaign.

(US administration officials look on as the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo sign an “economic relations” deal brokered by President Donald Trump)

“It has taken tremendous bravery by (President Aleksandar Vucic) of Serbia and (Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti) of Kosovo to embark on these talks and to come to Washington to finalize these commitments,” Trump said.

“By doing so, they have made their countries, the Balkans, and the world safer. I look forward to seeing Serbia and Kosovo prosper as we work together on economic cooperation in the region going forward.”

Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate for US president in the Nov. 3 election, was explicit in standing by Kosovo’s drive for full recognition. “I don’t know what the deal is,” said the former American vice president and longtime member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “What I have argued relative to Serbia and Kosovo is that Kosovo should be independent, not a part of Serbia. I spent a lot of time there. I assume that would reinforce that independence.”

However, Serbian officials pointed out that the deal did not amount to an official recognition of Kosovo. “We thought it should not be in a document about economic normalization, that we couldn’t accept it,” Vucic said.

“People from the Trump cabinet listened (to) what we had to say, they were fair, and I believe that in other documents that article is no longer there.”

Advisor to the President on Serbia-Kosovo Richard Grenell, Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner and National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien take questions during a press briefing at the White House on September 4, 2020 in Washington, DC. (AFP/File Photo)

He noted that the two countries “haven’t resolved all our problems. There are still differences,” but acknowledged that having a unified economic zone with Kosovo was a “huge step forward.”

Hoti also described the economic cooperation as a “huge step forward” in the relationship, adding that the two leaders were committed to working together.

According to Grenell, the US and EU have accepted a division of tasks and roles, with the latter focusing “on the political aspects” and the former addressing the economic side of the Serbia-Kosovo dialogue. While some EU officials are known to be cool to the US efforts, Balkan analysts say the White House agreement’s fine print signals a potential thaw in relations after years of hostility.

Serbia has pledged to stop its campaign to get countries to “derecognize” Kosovo for one year, while Kosovo has promised to stop applying for membership of international organizations during the same period.

Both Kosovo and Serbia agreed to work more on issues of missing persons, refugees, and internally displaced persons from the Kosovo war, as well as to recognize, among other things, each other’s higher education diplomas.

Trump drew parallels between other moves by the two Balkan countries and the UAE-Israel rapprochement, which was announced from the White House in August. “Another great day for peace with Middle East – Muslim-majority Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalize ties and establish diplomatic relations. Well-done! More Islamic and Arab nations will follow soon!” he said in a tweet.

Kosovo Albanians wave Albanian and US flags during a rally for an immediate declaration of independence in Pristina, 10 December 2007. (AFP/File Photo)

After the UAE, the US is counting on additional Arab states, including Sudan, Bahrain, and Oman, to normalize relations with Israel. The first commercial flights between Israel and the UAE have already begun, with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain to allow them to pass through their airspace.

Trump noted that one of Kosovo’s first decisions was to announce it would recognize Israel and open an embassy in Israeli-controlled Jerusalem, a city that is at the heart of the Middle East conflict.

“We have also made additional progress on reaching peace in the Middle East. Kosovo and Israel have agreed to normalization of ties and the establishment of diplomatic relations. Serbia has committed to opening a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and to move its embassy to Jerusalem by July,” Trump said.

For Trump, a diplomatic breakthrough in the Western Balkans is likely to have a personal significance. His wife, First Lady Melania Trump, was born in Slovenia, one of the countries formed following the breakup of Yugoslavia. She grew up in Sevnica in Slovenia, became a model and obtained US residency in 2001. She married Trump in 2005 and became a US citizen the following year.

As for Kosovo, it was a region of Serbia, which was a province of the former Yugoslavia formed after World War I in 1918. Kosovo broke from Serbia and Yugoslavia in 1998, sparking a violent conflict that lasted more than a year and that only ended when NATO intervened with a 77-day bombing campaign against Serbian targets in Kosovo and across Serbia.

Dutch and Belgian F-16 aircrafts line up for takeoff 25 March 1999 at the Italian airbase of Amendola to continue air raids on Serb targets. (AFP/File Photo)

Ten years later, on Feb. 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia and the former Yugoslavia, again without any agreement with Serbia. Two years on, The Hague-based International Court of Justice, a civil court that hears disputes between countries, ruled in a landmark advisory opinion that Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence did not violate international law.

Today, the Republic of Kosovo is recognized by 116 countries, with the exception of Serbia, Russia, China, and some EU member states. The non-recognition by five EU member states – Slovakia, Cyprus, Spain, Greece, and Romania – has prevented the EU from engaging with Kosovo to the same extent it can with the other Western Balkan countries.

The Serbia-Kosovo war created a high level of bitterness involving accusations of widespread civilian massacres. Many present-day Kosovo politicians, including Thaci, played a prominent role in the movement that pitted ethnic Albanians against Serbs.

After the conflict of 1998-1999, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) at The Hague indicted 161 people with war crimes. Of those charged, 94 were Serbian leaders accused of war crimes, and nine were Albanians associated with Kosovo.

The tribunal was later replaced in 2005 by the Kosovo Specialist Chamber, an EU-backed entity governed by Kosovo laws, financed by the EU, and made up of international judges and prosecutors.


Twitter: @rayhanania // Twitter: @eminaosmandzik

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the north central railway hospital in Allahabad on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2021

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • Only half of the government’s target has been inoculated

NEW DELHI: The world’s biggest vaccination drive to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus is slowing down in India as concerns over safety fuel vaccine hesitancy, especially among health workers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign on Jan. 16, with 30 million frontline health care workers the first to get the jab. A week into the drive, however, Health Ministry data suggest that on average only 150,000 people have been inoculated a day — half of the government’s target.
“There is a general hesitancy among healthcare workers, particularly doctors, about the efficacy of the vaccines,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association of the premier Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told Arab News on Friday.
Two coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use in India: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically as Covishield by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and a locally developed vaccine called Covaxin, produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech, which is still in its trial stage and has no final data on its efficacy.
“Lack of transparency is at the core of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra of Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, told Arab News.
“We doctors should have jointly taken up the issue and asked the government to demonstrate more transparency in introducing the vaccine,” he said.
Mohapatra was one of the doctors who on Jan. 16 refused to take a Covaxin shot at his hospital.
Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF) president, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhattialso, says that the absence of data is fueling “fear about the vaccination” among members of the medical community.
 Concerns also exist about the Covishield vaccine.


Instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.

“Even there is hesitancy about Covishied. There is no enthusiasm for it. However, people will prefer Covishied over Covaxin,” Bhatti said.
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched an information campaign to address what he said were “rumors and misinformation.”
“We have launched a digital media package with impactful messages from key technical experts from the country who have taken COVID-19 vaccine,” Vardhan told reporters.
The messages, he said, are that “vaccines are safe and efficacious,” and cover the “critical role of vaccines in controlling the pandemic.”
But instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.
“If the Indian PM Narendra Modi and other political high-ups take the vaccine then it will have a huge impact,” Singh said. “There is a lack of political consensus on vaccines. To inspire confidence all the state chief ministers should also take the shot.”
According to media reports, Modi may get vaccinated in the second phase of the campaign, in March or April, when 270 million people above the age of 50 will be inoculated.
Other health experts argue, however, that vaccinating leaders is not a substitute for scientific processes.
“Leadership taking the vaccine is more of a tokenism than coming out clean on the efficacy and the actual and effective profile of the vaccine,” said Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based health expert and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
“What is tragic is that our PM might be ready to take the risk of vaccination (but) he is not ready to offend the companies, which are sitting on the data. Why can’t they make the data public? This is what the doctors are asking for,” he told Arab News.
In the absence of scientific data, he argued, people with underlying health problems would be hesitant to get vaccinated when the immunization campaign reaches the general public.
“When you are not transparent today, then tomorrow comorbid people will be hesitant and then the general population will be reluctant,” he said.