PRISTINA, KOSOVO - A top U.S. State Department official on Wednesday urged Kosovo officials to ratify a border demarcation agreement with Montenegro, the last remaining criteria to be fulfilled before Kosovo can benefit from visa-free travel to the European Schengen zone.
Shortly after meeting with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci in Pristina, Hoyt Brian Yee, the deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, told VOA’s Albanian Service that he encouraged the new government “to seize the opportunity where the last government was not able to.”
Kosovo’s opposition prevented the previous parliament from voting on the border agreement, which was signed with Montenegro more than two years ago.
Immediately after taking office in September, Kosovo Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj decided to disband the commission in charge of the border demarcation with Montenegro. Instead, he composed a new commission consisting of professionals mainly in opposition to the agreement.
Yee said during the interview that the government must find a way to ratify the agreement or Kosovo’s path to visa free travel in the EU will remain blocked.
“We believe this is extremely important for the people of Kosovo, to show them that they are part of Europe, that they are not isolated, that they are welcome in Europe,” he said, adding that the U.S. understands “agreements like this, issues involving borders and relations with neighbors, are sometimes complicated,” but that leaders must assume the responsibilities.
He also said the U.S. plans to continue its role in the EU-led dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
“We have been there from the beginning. Our intention is to remain there as long as Europeans wants us to be there and as long as both parties, Serbia and Kosovo, wants us to be there,” said Yee.
Last month, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence hosted President Thaci at the White House, where he encouraged him to ratify the border-demarcation deal with Montenegro.
Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is recognized by 114 countries but not by Belgrade.
Answering a question about comments he’d made while addressing the Serbian Economic Summit in Belgrade on Monday, Yee told VOA that the U.S. respects Serbia’s historical ties with Russia.
Yee recently was criticized by Serbia's defense minister for telling summit participants that “EU hopefuls” such as Serbia "should clearly demonstrate that they really want to become members.”
“You cannot sit on two chairs, especially if those chairs are too far apart,” said Yee, referring to the balancing policy of Serbia between Moscow, the European Union, and the United States.
Addressing Serbian news outlets, Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin, who has been known to advocate a pro-Russian stance, called Yee’s “undemocratic” comments “the greatest pressure against Serbia yet.”
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, who held a meeting Tuesday with Yee, issued a statement saying he carefully listened to Yee’s concerns and responded to his remarks “very directly.” He did not, however, publicly disclose his response.
“There are historical, cultural, religious connections — energy, economic ties — we have no objections to that,” Yee told VOA on Wednesday.
“Our advice to Serbia, just like it is to Kosovo, is that it should make very clear what its priorities are, make very clear what its policies are,” he added. “You can sit on two chairs and probably get to the destination, but it’s much slower.”
This story originated in VOA's Albanian Service.