The EU has voiced “serious concern and regret” over Belgrade’s commitment to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, casting a shadow over the resumption of Serbia-Kosovo talks.
President Aleksandar Vucic of Serbia and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti are to meet in Brussels for a second round of EU-brokered, face-to-face talks to resolve two decades of disputes after clashing in war.
The meeting follows a high-profile summit at the White House where Vucic and Hoti agreed to improve economic relations – and in Serbia’s case, following in the US’s footsteps, committing to moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
But the EU remains committed to the so-called “two state solution” in which Jerusalem will be the capital of both Israel and a future Palestinian state, with its own diplomatic mission is in Tel Aviv.
The bloc expects prospective members such as Serbia to align with its foreign policy positions.
“In this context, any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret,” EU foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano told reporters in Brussels.
Breaking with long-standing diplomatic practice, US President Donald Trump’s administration in December 2017 recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moved the US embassy to the city.
Washington touted the agreements signed by Vucic and Hoti on Friday as a major breakthrough, but on Monday the two leaders issued a joint statement giving a far more cautious read.
“The recently agreed documents in Washington DC, building on previous dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalisation of relations,” the statement said.
In one of Europe’s most intractable disputes, Serbia has refused to recognise Kosovo’s declaration of independence since the province broke away in the bloody 1998-99 war that was ended only by a NATO bombing campaign against Serb troops.
Both Kosovo and Serbia are facing mounting pressure from the West to resolve the impasse which is seen as crucial to either side joining the EU.
One key question is diplomatic recognition for Kosovo – five of the EU’s 27 countries do not acknowledge its independence.
At a news conference in Pristina, Kosovo’s capital, President Hashim Thaci tried to calm the fears of Muslim nations that its decision to recognise Israel could damage ties with the Islamic world.
Thaci hailed the deal with Serbia signed at the White House in Washington, which included mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo.
But he added that he had received messages of concern from the Arab League and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan “regarding the mutual recognition of Israel-Kosovo”.
“I am in contact with President Erdogan. I spoke to him on the phone and this recognition of Kosovo-Israel will not jeopardise in any way the friendly and strategic partnership with Turkey. Now, we shall have more powerful allies (Israel) in our efforts to globally strengthen the state of Kosovo.”
Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, has never recognised Israel, nor has Israel recognised Kosovo.