A senior State Department official will lead a U.S. delegation to three western Balkan countries in the coming days following weeks of racial tension in the region.
U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Scholey and the U.S. delegation will travel to Serbia, Kosovo and North Macedonia.
The border between Kosovo and Serbia has reopened after protests against Serb roadblocks led authorities to close crossings between Kosovo and Serbia amid fears tensions could turn violent.
Scholet told VOA’s Serbian-language correspondent Thursday that his visit next week comes at a critical time.
“Unfortunately, tensions between Kosovo and Serbia have escalated over the past few weeks. In the last 48 hours we have seen roadblocks removed, we have seen border crossings between Kosovo and Serbia reopen. Great news,” he said.
Serbia and Kosovo have been part of an EU-facilitated dialogue since 2011 aimed at normalizing relations. Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but it was never recognized by Serbian authorities.
The EU facilitated a dialogue between the two sides last year, but the negotiations have repeatedly stalled.
Scholet said he wanted to focus discussions on the future of Kosovo and Serbia and the normalization proposal put forward by the European Union.
In recent months, U.S. and European officials have worked to speed up talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo. The EU made a proposal, but Chollet declined to provide details.
“I think sometimes in any negotiation it’s better to leave some of these details behind the door until they’re ready. But we think the EU has charted a path that works. Again, it’s going to be tough, it’s going to take a lot of work, Tough decisions and the courage of leaders to put aside their differences and do what is in the best interest of the country. We want to help them get there,” Chollet said.
He also said the US continued to prioritize the 2013 Brussels agreement that called for the formation of a Serbian association of municipalities.
“We’re very clear about that. We think it’s a commitment that has been made and it should be followed through on. But there are a lot of other issues, and both parties have obligations, and we want to see them move forward,” Chollet said.
The Serbian Association of Municipalities is a planned association of municipalities with a Serb majority population in Kosovo. It should outline the areas of economic development, education, health, urban and rural planning, etc.
Kosovo authorities opposed its creation on the grounds that it was unconstitutional and promoted by the Serbian government in Belgrade.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, however, praised the European proposal for a two-state agreement, saying it contained universal principles such as “territorial integrity, sovereignty, independence, equality, the rule of law, democracy, [and] Self-determination”, he said, would make the agreement sustainable.
But he told VOA’s Albanian service that Belgrade hadn’t indicated it was ready to accept it.
“In order to hide their rejection of this proposal, they resigned from the Kosovo institutions north of the Ibar River, on the one hand they want to territorialize the problem through these roadblocks … and on the other hand they want to kill the politically diverse Serbian community in Kosovo.”
The prime minister said the deal on the Association of Serbian Municipalities had not yet passed the test of Kosovo’s Constitutional Court.