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President of Kosovo Optimistic About Incoming US Administration

FILE - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci waves to the crowd during a ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia, May 29, 2016.
FILE - Kosovo President Hashim Thaci waves to the crowd during a ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia, May 29, 2016.

Kosovo President Hashim Thaci says he believes Washington will continue its strong support for his Balkan country under the incoming Trump administration.

In an exclusive interview with the VOA Albanian service, Thaci said he has been meeting with people in Washington who may be involved in the future in dealings with the Balkans and Europe. The Kosovo president also was hosted at the White House by Vice President Joseph Biden, who reconfirmed U.S. support for the small Balkan nation.

Thaci later met with Democratic and Republican legislators before sitting down with Bob Dole, a former Republican senator and presidential candidate who was named deputy chief of Trump's transition team Monday.

Prominent members of both major U.S. political parties expressed their support for Kosovo, Thaci said, adding that he expects the Trump administration to continue along that path.

“I cannot say that there will be [as much] attention as before, and it is a good thing, because Kosovo is not a country in crisis," he stated.

Standing army

The president said he believes President-elect Donald Trump's appointees will support Kosovo's effort to establish its own army, and its introduction into NATO's Partnership for Peace program. “Kosovo has been, is and will remain a reliable partner and forever grateful to the United States,” he told VOA.

Until recently, Kosovo was one of the biggest sources in Europe of recruits to the extremist Islamic State group. However, government officials in Pristina, analysts and former fighters say that the flow of recruits dwindled to a “virtual halt” in October.

The European Union's police mission in Kosovo and NATO have said they are concerned that fighters returning from Syria, to Kosovo and other parts of Europe, could remain active extremists and pose a security threat in the future.

In November, Kosovo authorities reported a potential attack by the Islamic State group had been averted. Police recovered weapons, electronic equipment and explosive devices, and they said a potential attack target had been the Israeli national football team, which played a World Cup qualifier in neighboring Albania.

Haradinaj detention criticized

Thaci said former Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj's detention in France last week was an “arbitrary” action based on a warrant issued by Serbia. The Kosovo leader said such tactics were reminiscent of those employed in the past when it was controlled by its late former president, Slobodan Milosevic.

Haradinaj, a former guerrilla fighter in Kosovo's war for independence in 1998-99, was released by a French court on Thursday. The Serbian warrant had accused him of war crimes.

“Serbia, after losing its battles in the war with Kosovo and after [losing] a battle to prevent its independence, is now trying at all costs to criminalize the political leaders of the new country,” he said. “The European Union should be very clear ... that such things should not be allowed to happen.”

Kosovo, the smallest country in the Balkan region with a Muslim-majority population, gained its independence from Serbia in 2008.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Albanian Service.