Oct. 31 (Bloomberg) -- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Kosovars that normalization of relations with Serbia will be key to the country’s economic and social progress.
“It calls for political will, even courage, but by moving forward on this path, Kosovo and Serbia will be aided in their efforts to tackle other urgent matters, like strengthening their economies and creating opportunity for their people,” Clinton said today in Pristina.
Clinton is on a five-day visit to the Balkans to urge an end to divisions that still fester between Serbs, Muslims and Croats since the war there ended with the 1995 Dayton Accords, signed when her husband Bill Clinton was president.
Clinton assured Kosovo that “the United States remains firm on Kosovo’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and seeing the rule of law extended throughout Kosovo,” which is wracked by corruption problems.
The U.S. “will oppose any discussion of territorial changes or reopening Kosovo’s independent status,” Clinton said. “These matters are not up for discussion.” Clinton made clear her backing wasn’t a typical foreign policy pledge.
“For me, my family, and many of my fellow Americans, this is more than a matter of foreign policy,” she said. “This is personal.”
The top U.S. diplomat has already visited Bosnia and Serbia, accompanied by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton. Clinton will travel to Croatia today and to Albania later in the week.
Clinton and Ashton are in the Balkans to urge Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo to work on relations with their neighbors, market reforms, rule of law and democracy in order to better integrate them into Euro-Atlantic institutions, including NATO and the European Union.
“Addressing the concerns of the Kosovo Serbs will also be critical,” Clinton said. “I will meet with a group of ethnic Serb returnees later today and will convey America’s commitment to helping build a future in Kosovo and throughout the region where all people, of all backgrounds, have a chance to succeed.”
In the Kosovo capital, Clinton met with Kosovar President Atifete Jahjaga and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, a founder of the Kosovo Liberation Army.
Clinton also addressed relations between Serbia and Kosovo, stressing the need for the two countries to engage in practical ways, and continue their dialogue after the first- ever meeting between the countries’ prime ministers in October.
“This dialogue does not require of Serbia the immediate recognition of Kosovo,” Clinton said yesterday in Belgrade. “It does, however, call for the two governments to move forward with practical agreements that serve the everyday security and economic interests of all the people of Serbia and Kosovo.”
Nationalist Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic has said that while he is willing to pursue better relations with Kosovo, Serbia will never recognize Kosovo, which Serbs consider the cultural cradle of their nation. as independent.
Violent protests erupted in Pristina last week after Thaci met with Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, leaving several demonstrators and policemen injured. Clinton called the meeting, which took place in Brussels, “the right decision” that “was courageous and it was smart.”
About 60,000 Serbs live in the north, which is not fully integrated with the rest of Kosovo and has parallel institutions which are funded by Serbia. About 100,000 live in the rest of Kosovo, most in municipalities with Kosovo Serb mayors and local leadership.
“Despite the significant progress we have made together in the 13 years of freedom” Kosovo is still not the country “of our dreams, but we are still consistently working for a European Kosovo,” Thaci said at a press conference with Clinton and Ashton.
The U.S. and EU would like to see Kosovo and Serbia make progress on issues such as freedom of movement, customs, utilities and government services, Clinton said.
Serbia’s stance on recognizing Kosovo, which became an international protectorate in 1999 with NATO backing and seceded in 2008, remains an obstacle to Serbia’s membership in the EU, the State Department official said.
Serbia will not become part of the EU as long as it keeps a security presence in Kosovo and continues to fund parallel institutions, the official said. The majority of hospitals, schools and to some degree courts in northern Kosovo continue to be run and financed by Serbia, the official said.
Ashton told Kosovars that the road to EU membership will get harder before it gets easier and acknowledged that the tortured history between Serbia and Kosovo made conducting the talks difficult.
“The dialogue we’ve begun is not easy,” she said. “For the people of Kosovo, with the history and the fears that you have, it’s not easy. But this dialogue is about making lives better.”
Later in her trip, Clinton will highlight the contributions Albania and Croatia have made to NATO and note Croatia’s scheduled membership in the EU next year. The message to the rest of the region will be that while reforms are hard, if they are undertaken and standards are met, they will become EU members, said the State Department official.
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