EU warns Serbia, Kosovo over Israel embassy move

08.09.2020

The European Union warned Serbia and Kosovo on Monday that they could undermine their EU membership hopes by moving their Israeli embassies to Jerusalem, as US President Donald Trump's surprise announcement about the change left officials in Belgrade and Pristina scrambling to limit the political fallout.

In an unexpected move last week, Trump said that Serbia and Kosovo had agreed to normalise economic ties as part of US-brokered talks that include Belgrade moving its embassy to Jerusalem, and mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo.

It surprised the Europeans, who are leading complex talks between Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo on improving their long-strained relations, while Serbian officials appeared to be watering down their commitment to Trump, and Kosovo sought to allay concerns among Muslim countries.

The 27-nation EU's long-held policy is that Jerusalem's status should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians as part of broader peace negotiations, and that Serbia – as a candidate to join the bloc – should respect that.

"There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,'' European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said. "Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU's common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.'' Praising what he said was "a major breakthrough'' and "a truly historic commitment,'' Trump – deep into campaigning ahead of November's presidential election – announced on Friday that "Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalisation.''

Trump also said that Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and move its embassy there in July. The Trump administration recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Serbia's president and confirmed that Israel and Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, will establish diplomatic relations. He said Pristina also will open its embassy in Jerusalem.

Stano, speaking as Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minster Avdullah Hoti held a new round of talks in Brussels on normalising their relations, said the EU was told in advance only about the economic aspects of the White House event, not about movements in Jerusalem.

In Belgrade, Serbian officials appeared to be stepping back from the embassy pledge, with Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic saying the final decision will still have to be discussed by the government and will depend on "a number of factors'' including future development of ties with Israel.  

Asked about the move following the meeting in Brussels, Vucic said that "Serbia has not opened that chapter yet, but we are doing our best to align with EU declarations, EU resolutions as much as it is possible. But he underlined that Serbia ''will take care of our own interests for the benefit and for the sake of our people."

Kosovo's President Hashim Thaci, meanwhile, was on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, trying to assuage fears about the decision to recognise Israel expressed by Turkey and the Arab League group of countries. "Such a recognition will not violate under any circumstances the strategic, friendly and fraternal partnership with Turkey,'' Thaci said after the conversation.  (AP)

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