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Ambassador Hill: We have problems with Prime Minister Kurti

2023-06-08 20:00:12, Kosova & Bota CNA
Ambassador Hill: We have problems with Prime Minister Kurti
American Ambassador in Belgrade, Christopher Hill

The American ambassador in Belgrade, Christopher Hill, said today that Western countries have made it clear that Kosovo will face consequences due to the developments in the north of the country, stressing that the problems are with Prime Minister Albin Kurti. In an interview with the Serbian Voice of America service, he said that Mr. Kurti did not agree with the Western demands for reducing tensions by withdrawing special police units and mayors from the north.

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Voice of America: The situation in Kosovo has not yet been resolved. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Gabriel Escobar and EU Special Envoy for Dialogue Miroslav Lajcak presented proposals to Belgrade and Pristina - for the extension of the situation, new elections in which Serbs will also participate and a return to dialogue for normalization. What answer did you get from the Prime Minister of Kosovo, Aljbin Kurti, is he ready to accept it?

Christopher Hill: I think we have a problem with Mr. Kurti, he is not willing to accept it. It seems to me that we have some very fundamental problems with him, if we can still consider him as a partner. But I leave this decision to our embassy in Pristina.

Voice of America: He said that he is not ready for extension and organization of new elections?

Christopher Hill:Scaling up is key and I think we've been successful in that regard in the last few days. As you know, a few days ago, we had a real jam there. NATO troops there. And recently, they were playing sports games with the Kosovo Serbs. So I think there was an extension. There is certainly a reduction in tensions from the Serbian side, and the expectation from the European Union and the United States is that Kosovo will take a step in that direction. One of them is to withdraw the special police from the north. Also, the mayors of the municipalities must leave the municipal buildings and this must happen at some point. And the third issue, a little more difficult, is whether you can have new elections. From the Serbian side, it was clearly said that the establishment of the Association of Serbian Municipalities is important, which is still a problem for Mr. Kurti.

Voice of America: Mr. Escobar said that Serbs should participate in local elections without preconditions. You mentioned the Association of municipalities with a Serbian majority. Do you believe that Serbs will participate in the elections if it is not established?

Christopher Hill: I don't want to go into the details of the negotiations, but I think the Serbs are worried about participating in local elections that would be held under the same circumstances as the previous ones - which they boycotted. I think some changes are needed, I don't want to talk about how far they should go and how they will be achieved. I know there will be many discussions with the Serbian community in Kosovo about how to move forward. We must bear in mind that the purpose of these elections is for those who are elected to serve the community in the north of Kosovo, which is mainly Serbian.

Voice of America: Can you imagine the participation of Serbs in the elections without the Association?

Christopher Hill: I think that the Association is essential for the north of Kosovo. And most people seem to understand that. The association is something we promised. It's something we decided to have. But maybe it will be necessary to somehow explain to the Serbian community what it means? It means the ability to have schools, to control schools, to have textbooks that people are happy with in those schools, hospital supplies, doctors, medical care. I think all these elements are understood and a lot of work needs to be done to implement them. And I think we need goodwill from all sides. and of course, we hope to get this from the authorities in Pristina.

VOA: What would be the consequences for both sides if they do not meet the demands?

Christopher Hill: For example, when a top four-star American general visited Serbia, we told Kosovo that we would not do the military exercise that we had planned.

Voice of America: But Mr. Kurti didn't take a step forward even then?

Christopher Hill: I have to say and I apologize for saying this but this is a process. And this will not happen in a moment, but over a period of time. But I think that Mr. Kurti has been fully informed by our ambassador in Pristina, by Mr. Lajçak and Mr. Escobar, that he will have to make some changes if he wants to count on us as a friend and partner. I don't remember ever seeing such deep divisions in relations between Pristina and Washington.

Voice of America: What do you expect from Mr. (Aleksandar) Vucic in this process? And what would be the consequences if expectations are not met?

Christopher Hill:We consider him to be a good partner, he and his government are good partners in this process. And we hope it continues that way. We would like him to do what he can to improve the situation, and we are already seeing signs that it is being implemented. This is very positive. I was present at the talks (with Escobar, Vucic and Lajcak) the other night and I can tell you that they went beyond the current crisis in Kosovo. I think there is an understanding with the authorities in Serbia on how to move forward, to do things together. I hope that the people of Serbia will also understand that we want to cooperate much more politically, economically, in the field of security, which is one of the reasons for the visit of General (Daniel) Hokanson (of the US National Guard). We are very interested in improving relations with Serbia - at least as much as the people and the government in Serbia are interested in it. We feel that Serbia is becoming an increasingly better partner for us.

Voice of America: Is there unity within 'Quint' regarding the positions of the Prime Minister of Kosovo? We saw that the US was very specific about the consequences, but others did not follow suit.

Christopher Hill: What we have said about Kosovo is that there will be consequences in our bilateral relations. It was a very strong statement what the secretary (Antony) Blinken said condemning the actions of Mr. Kurti for sending the special police to the north and for failing to work and communicate properly with partners. These are serious accusations against Mr. Kurti and I hope that Mr. Kurti can understand that he has to act in a way that is different from what he has been doing. And so I won't talk to him anymore.

Voice of America: One of the sparks of the crisis in Kosovo was the local elections. Turnout was extremely low, around 3.5 percent. But the West did not contest the results of those elections. Does it seem like the wrong decision?

Christopher Hill: You know, you'd have to ask other people if it was the wrong decision. I certainly have my opinion on the election and let me answer this question more as an analyst than as an ambassador. I think some people expected the turnout to be low, but they didn't expect it to be only 3.75 percent. And I think it became clear very quickly, I would say to everyone, that with such participation you don't have to move forward. It is clear that these data worried many people, of course I am one of them.

Voice of America: It seems that the European proposal for the normalization of relations did not bring much progress, the tensions on the ground are the same, if not greater. Do you consider failed deals? Is there perhaps a need to find a new approach?

Christopher Hill:My point is, and I want to emphasize this because I'm not a negotiator, that all the elements of the deal that should be on the table are there. For the Serbian side, the Association is needed and this is important, because the fact that there is no Association lacks trust in the international community. Serbia must make the decision to recognize Kosovo's documents and not prevent Kosovo from joining regional organizations etc... It is clear to me that it can be said that it is not working, but giving up is not an option. And I have to say one more thing: what I have seen in other negotiations, but not here, is a good tone of conversation. In the case of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, you are trying to move things to another level compared to where they are now, but I think the harsh rhetoric is harming the process.

Voice of America: Do you expect Mr. Vucic to recognize Kosovo's independence?

Christopher Hill: I think he is willing to do what he said - to achieve normalization and that is very important. And this precedes all future stages of cooperation. Let's start in order, try to realize the Association, the recognition of Kosovo's documents. This is important at this point./ VOA

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