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Trump's envoy visits Kosovo in push for new talks with Serbia

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Trump's envoy visits Kosovo in push for new talks with Serbia
U.S. special envoy Richard Grenell is welcomed by Kosovo President Hashim Thaci in Pristina, Kosovo, October 9, 2019. REUTERS/Laura Hasani   -   Copyright  LAURA HASANI(Reuters)
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By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) – A special envoy of U.S. President Donald Trump arrived in Kosovo on Wednesday three days after it held an election, in a new push to restart talks with Serbia to reach a final deal that would pave the way for Kosovo’s membership in the United Nations.

Kosovo, a former province of Serbia, declared independence in 2008, but this has not been recognised by Belgrade. Both countries have been strongly encouraged by the United States and EU to normalise their relations with each other.

Negotiations abruptly stopped a year ago when Kosovo imposed 100% import tariffs on goods produced in Serbia.

Kosovo will soon have a new government after a snap parliamentary election on Sunday. Albin Kurti, whose centre-left Vetevendosje party narrowly won the most seats, has been given a mandate to form a government. He has said he would revoke the tariffs but impose other measures against Serbia.

Kurti, who met the visiting U.S. envoy Richard Grenell at the U.S. embassy, said: “The content and process of reaching a deal (with Serbia) are more important for the deal to be sustainable, rather than the timeline for reaching that deal.”

Last week, Trump appointed Grenell, the U.S. ambassador to Germany, as special envoy for talks between Belgrade and Pristina. Kosovo President Hashim Thaci said Grenell’s mission showed that Washington was committed to Kosovo.

“This gives us confidence and trust in searching for a peace deal with Serbia,” Thaci said in a statement after meeting the U.S. envoy. “Active participation of the U.S. will be decisive to find a final solution between Kosovo and Serbia.”

Grenell is due to travel to Belgrade to meet Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic on Thursday.

Last year, Thaci and Vucic signalled that they might agree to a land swap to resolve territorial claims the two countries have against each other, but both faced strong opposition to the idea domestically and abroad.

Kosovo’s highest court ruled that talks between the two countries should be led by the prime minister, rather than Thaci.

Kurti said he will not support any land swap but that he was ready to take part in an EU-mediated negotiation with Belgrade.

Serbia lost control of Kosovo after 1999 NATO bombing to halt killings and expulsions of Kosovo’s majority ethnic Albanians by Serb forces during a counter-insurgency. The United States remains Kosovo’s biggest diplomatic and financial backer.

Kosovo is recognised by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia, Russia or China. Once Belgrade and Pristina reach a deal, Pristina could apply for membership in the United Nations, now blocked by Serbia’s traditional ally Russia.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Peter Graff)

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