FILE - U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 27, 2019.
FILE - U.S. Representative Eliot Engel (D-NY) speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 27, 2019.

A prominent member of the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday issued a highly critical statement on U.S. policy toward Kosovo.

Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia in 2008. Since than the country has been recognized by more than 110 countries, including the United States, but not by Serbia and its ally Russia.

House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, a Democrat, said there is something wrong with the U.S. foreign policy toward Kosovo and “we need to correct it.”

In his statement, Engel expressed his serious concerns “with the heavy-handed tactics the Trump administration is using with Prishtina,” Kosovo’s capital.

Engel was referring to State Department pressure on Prishtina, especially on the government of Prime Minister Albin Kurti, to lift tariffs the country had imposed on Serbia.

“This administration turned to economic penalties just a few short weeks after the Kurti government took office. Rather than letting a new government facing a pandemic staff its agencies and set up internal procedures, the U.S. contributed to a political crisis in Prishtina over the tariffs on Serbia,” Engel said.

On March 25, after only 50 days in office, the Kurti government did not survive a no-confidence vote in parliament, initiated by its ruling coalition partner, the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK).

The government was dismissed following political bickering over whether to declare a state of emergency to prevent the spread of the coronavirus and after Kurti dismissed the LDK internal affairs minister, Agim Veliu.

Kurti’s government is expected to continue as a caretaker government, pending creation of a new government.

“There are good reasons for Kosovo to lift tariffs, mostly that they are hurting Kosovo more than they are providing leverage to reach a peace deal with Serbia,” Engel said.

“Regardless, tariffs are a legitimate tool of a sovereign nation. As such, they’ve been imposed around the world by [U.S.] President [Donald] Trump against friends and foes, alike, for economic and political reasons,” Engel said.

Engel said the Trump administration used “overbearing tactics with a friend which relies on our support” instead of working with Kurti government, “as it sought to work with the previous Kosovo government” to forge policies that promote lasting peace and prosperity.

“Strong-arming a small democracy is the act of a bully,” Engel said.

While Serbian diplomats are campaigning around the world to “derecognize” Kosovo’s independence, and Serbia is purchasing heavy weaponry from Russia and strengthening the relationship with Moscow, the pressure imposed on Prishtina for its tariffs on Serbia has been “decidedly unbalanced,” Engel said.

The U.S., he added, should work with European allies “to treat both countries as independent and sovereign partners, applying consistent standards to both sides as we try to restart peace talks.”

The arms purchases from Russia require U.S. sanctions on Serbia under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, passed in the aftermath of 2016 Russian interference in U.S. elections, Engel said.

“Neither have we imposed those sanctions, nor have we energetically pressed Serbia to end its derecognition efforts,” Engel said.

“When U.S. law says we should sanction Serbia due to its security ties with Russia, we should.”