Grenell: Kurti doesn't make good decisions; Special Forces are not needed in the north

Ricard Grenel
Source: Kosovo Online

Former US President Donald Trump's Envoy for negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, Richard Grenell, pointed out that the international community was united in its condemnation of Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and his actions in the north, and that he would suffer the consequences due to unilateral moves, Gazeta Express reports.

In an interview with T7, Grenell said that both sides were to blame for the failure of the dialogue, but that the international community was rightly unanimous in condemning Kurti.

He adds that he is an admirer of the former President of Kosovo, Hashim Thaci, and that he was in The Hague "only because of the hatred of former chief prosecutor Jack Smith for Donald Trump."

Last week marked the third anniversary of the agreement of September 4, 2020, between Kosovo and Serbia, for which you mediated. How do you comment on the non-implementation of many provisions of the agreement?

I think the good news is that the Joe Biden administration when it came to power after President Trump, welcomed the agreements and said they were good things. It is good for the people of Kosovo to have the support of Republicans and Democrats for progress in economic normalization. The vision was that during the first year, we had to make a lot of progress. The first year was really important. But Joe Biden's administration has not appointed a single person to oversee the deal. As Joe Biden's administration ignored Kosovo, Serbia, and the entire Balkans, we really saw a lack of political will, because there was no pressure. Biden's position was that Europe and Brussels should take the lead, and the US should step back. I think it is a terrible idea for the people of Kosovo and Serbia and for the entire region. Everyone knows that there are many words from the Europeans and the EU, but not many actions. The Americans are taking action because we are impatient. We push both sides.

Last Thursday, the dialogue between Kurti and Vucic in Brussels was unsuccessful. Who do you think is responsible for the lack of progress in this process?

Both sides are to blame, no doubt about it. But now the international community is united that Albin Kurti took unilateral actions in the north. I think the Germans, the French, Europeans in general, KFOR, NATO forces, the Joe Biden administration, the White House, and the State Department, all condemned Albin Kurti for his actions in the North. He does not make good decisions to create an atmosphere of peace. I was in the north, pushing the Serbs to support the idea that the arrested and detained Kosovo police officers should be released. I don't think it was a good move to create an atmosphere of peace. That's why they were released and I think that's a good thing. However the international community was clear that special units are not needed in the north, we can have police officers patrolling the northern area, but you cannot send special units circling around municipal buildings in Kosovo. This is what the international community, including NATO forces, has said.

They asked Kurti to immediately conduct real elections, which was not done. We know that many contracts have been concluded for the creation of the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities. This was not done either, so Albin Kurti changed the reputation of Kosovo on the international scene. I know there are many people in Kosovo who like Albin Kurti and I like his message against corruption. There is a lot of corruption in the Balkans, and I like that aspect. I like that you talk about youth involvement. But there is no doubt, that Aljbin Kurti took unilateral actions that brought condemnation from the international community like never before. Kosovo has always been a unique friend of the US, but to have it condemned by the State Department, Joe Biden, and the Democrats is unprecedented. The people of Kosovo must understand the statement made by the international community on June 3, asking Albin Kurti to stop unilateral actions and take concrete steps... he did not do that, and there will be consequences. I hear that all the time from the State Department.

Since you mentioned the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities, should it be established without executive powers, as Kosovo's allies say, and in your opinion, does this violate Kosovo's sovereignty?

I think it's very important that foreigners like me don't dictate too many details. There must be flexibility in order for the establishment of this Community to have the support of the Government of Kosovo, the Government of Serbia, and the people. So I won't dictate the details.

Hypothetically, if Mr. Trump returns to the White House in 2024, would you continue to work with Prime Minister Kurti, given his outspoken support for Biden and his call for Albanian Americans to vote Democratic in 2020?

We have a temporary government. Biden is the President, he makes all the decisions. We will have a healthy debate about who will be the next President. But this is a hypothetical question and I cannot give an answer. Biden will be President of course until January 2025.

Last month, Prime Minister Kurti said that a final deal should be reached before the next US presidential election, but that doesn't seem very feasible, does it?

I think an agreement must be reached immediately. I would like Kurti to work more closely with the current US Government because they want him to stop unilateral actions. Biden and the State Department do not reassure him. The presence of NATO troops in Kosovo is not always a good thing for the future, if you want to develop your economy, if you want to open businesses and provide well-paid jobs. Businesses do not go to a country where NATO forces have to protect security. That's not a good message. You must be able to provide peace and protection. It is a terrible message that you are developing your economy through the mediation of NATO forces. When I was the representative for the dialogue, I made it clear that we were trying to remove NATO troops. We wanted economic normalization, we wanted progress, we wanted a flight between Pristina and Belgrade. All those things that were supposed to remove NATO troops, for companies from the European Union and the US to recognize that Kosovo is a place where they should expand and develop their companies and create well-paid jobs. I know that there are many businessmen in Kosovo who are very hardworking and have great ideas. I want to see their business grow. I think that people in Kosovo are very hardworking and resilient. They would be wonderful workers for some of the Western companies that come, but they don't come to a country where NATO troops are because of the violence, so we have to understand that we have to remove those troops. I would support a good deal between the parties.

Former President Thaci has been in custody in The Hague for three years, accused of war crimes. Have you followed the process and had recent communication with him?

I followed the process and of course, I am an admirer of President Thaci. Joe Biden called him the George Washington of Kosovo. That is a very nice compliment. He shouldn't be in jail. I think Jack Smith, the former attorney general, went ahead and did this because he hates Donald Trump and he knew we were close to making a deal. I also agree with Edi Rama, the Prime Minister of Albania, because he is outraged that the Europeans are still holding Thaci. This is a real shame for Europeans. You can't say you stand for a good judicial system that is fair if it keeps Thaci for three years. This is a disgrace to The Hague and there should be more voices in Europe and the international community, and I believe that Smith is guilty.