Serbia, Kosovo to Reopen Highway, Rail Service

Kosovo and Serbia have signed a deal to reopen a highway and resume rail service between them. The agreement, signed Friday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, was brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for the Belgrade-Pristina talks, Ambassador Richard Grenell.  Grenell said the deal represented “historic progress on economic development. Agreements on air, rail and highway connections will facilitate the flow of people and goods between Kosovo and Serbia.” The move came after a January deal signed in Berlin to launch direct commercial flights between Pristina and Belgrade. Kosovo President Hashim Thaçi, writing on Twitter, called the agreement “another milestone! First, the deal on air traffic and today we signed the deal on railways and highways between Kosovo and Serbia. A great step towards reaching a final peace agreement between two countries.” Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic said that the deal “will create a better future and ensure peace for the coming decades.” Stalled talksEuropean Union-mediated talks between Serbia and Kosovo over normalizing relations stalled after the previous Kosovo government imposed 100% tariffs on Serbian goods to protest efforts by Belgrade to block Kosovo’s accession into international organizations. Belgrade has said it will not return to the negotiating table until the tariffs are lifted. Kosovo authorities have been under relentless pressure from Western allies to remove the tariffs. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed for action to new Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti.  In a letter to Kurti, Pompeo said, “Now is the time to realize comprehensive normalization with Serbia, centered on mutual recognition, which is essential to Kosovo’s full international recognition.”  “Ending tariffs on goods from Serbia and Bosnia-Herzegovina will be important in bringing parties back to [the] negotiating table,” he added. Kurti has pledged to abolish the tariffs on Serbian imports, but he announced that he would introduce “measures of full reciprocity in trade, politics and economy” with Serbia. On Monday, Kosovo will mark its 12th anniversary of independence, which has been recognized by more than 110 countries including the United States, but not by Serbia and its ally, Russia. 

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