Statement by David L. Phillips on the Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue 5 June 2019

Matthew A Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, “urgently” endorsed the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue in an interview with Voice of America on June 4, 2019. According to Palmer, “To continue the dialogue, customs barriers must be removed.”

Supporting conditions for dialogue repudiate the special relationship between the United States and Kosovo. Tariffs imposed by Kosovo were not arbitrary or unprovoked. The tariffs were adopted in response to Serbia’s systematic efforts to block Kosovo’s efforts to gain greater global recognition. Serbia used heavy-handed tactics to oppose Kosovo’s membership in Interpol, lobby countries against recognizing Kosovo, and urge countries that have already recognized Kosovo to withdraw their recognition. Serbian envoys cannot sit at the table in Brussels talking about normalization, while working to undermine Kosovo’s international relations.

Palmer correctly asserted, “The dialogue must be continued.” It should, however, continue without conditions. Sabotaging Kosovo’s efforts to gain greater global recognition undermines confidence. It is impossible to return to the status quo ante when Kosovo declared independence and was recognized by 116 countries.

NATO, led by the United States, went to war in 1999 to prevent Serbia’s genocide of Kosovo Albanians. Serbia was the aggressor and Kosovo the victim. Instead of pressuring Kosovo to abandon the tariffs, the U.S. should pressure Serbia to recognize Kosovo.

If Serbia insists on conditions for resuming the dialogue, the Government of Kosovo should similarly condition its participation. For example, Kosovo could demand that Serbia provide detailed information on more than 6,000 who were victims of war crimes, many of whom are missing.

In order to restore its bona fides as mediator, the EU must demonstrate goodwill by expeditiously implementing visa liberalization for Kosovo. In the post-Mogherini period, the U.S. should play a more robust role in mediation.

Lifting the tariff should be discussed within the broader framework of overall efforts to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia. Until Serbia recognizes Kosovo, the 100 percent tariff is justified and should stay in place.

If Serbia continues to demand lifting the tariff as a condition for dialogue, the Government of Kosovo should ratchet up the pressure by increasing the tariff 10 percent every thirty days until Serbia recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state within its current borders.

Mr. Phillips is the Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights. He served as a Senior Adviser and Foreign Affairs Expert at the U.S. Department of State during the administrations of Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama. Phillips is author of Liberating Kosovo: Coercive Diplomacy and U.S. Intervention (Harvard’s Kennedy School).