Escobar: We are concerned because Kosovo does not treat us as a partner and undermines dialogue

Izaslanik SAD za Zapadni Balkan Gabrijel Eskobar
Source: Kosovo Online

Special US envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, stated that the US was concerned because Kosovo did not treat them as a partner and did not work together for regional stability but undermined dialogue - to which the US was fully committed. Escobar expressed hope that representatives of Pristina would attend the meeting in Brussels on February 27, which would discuss the situation after the ban on the dinar in Kosovo.

In an interview with "Voice of America," Escobar emphasized that the problematic aspect was the way the Government of Albin Kurti had changed its policy on payment transactions, not the policy itself, which had been discussed earlier.

"I don't want to delve into all the consequences, but I think our statements in public clearly indicate the direction of our diplomatic and political relations. We are very concerned because the Government of Kosovo does not treat us as a partner, does not work with us on regional stability, and undermines dialogue - to which the US is fully committed. I think Ambassador Jeffrey Hovenier said it best - it complicates our ability to help Kosovo integrate into the transatlantic community. Whenever we talk to other partners about Kosovo, especially those who do not recognize it, they see that Kosovo does not fulfill its obligations in the dialogue under the auspices of the EU, which represents the entire EU. So, this makes it difficult for us to defend Kosovo's arguments in any way, including membership in the EU and NATO, the Council of Europe, and many other organizations," Escobar emphasized.

When asked if the new policy regarding the dinar had been discussed earlier in the dialogue and if it had been discussed with Belgrade, Escobar highlighted two important aspects:

"One is that the Community of Serb-majority Municipalities - whose formation is an obligation and, as far as we are concerned, must be fulfilled - includes resolving the issue of the dinar in a transparent, electronic manner in accordance with Kosovo's laws. And we support that. In other words, this is a problem that would be resolved through the Community. We have several concerns about this: the first is the sudden change in the law. Responsible institutions do not surprise their citizens with administrative changes that will disrupt their daily lives."

He emphasized that even in the US if the Tax Authority were to decide one day to change the tax system without guidance or notification, it would have enormous consequences for businesses.

"Secondly, they did not talk to the local community that depends on social benefits from Serbia. Thirdly, Kosovo did not offer any alternatives. A woman who relies entirely on social benefits because she cares for her disabled son contacted our embassy. She has no alternative. Then, Kosovo rejected the technical assistance of the Quint to find a payment mechanism that would be transparent and electronic and would not disrupt people's lives. Finally, at the summit in Skopje, six states discussed a payment system that could be applied in all countries. So, all Kosovo had to do was wait and get a transparent system," Escobar stated.

When it comes to Serbia's behavior in the dialogue and its fulfillment of obligations, Escobar emphasizes that the expectations from Belgrade are clear, and some things have been fulfilled - such as the acceptance of Kosovo license plates and customs documents.

"We want Serbia to make this irreversible and formal by incorporating it into laws or regulations. This is expected from Serbia. However, there are still some things that have been promised but not done - for example, bringing to justice those responsible for participating in the attack in Banjska on September 24. This is not a part of the dialogue, but it is very important for regional reconciliation," Escobar said.

He agrees with the statement of Assistant Secretary of State James O'Brien, who recently said that Serbia had taken two important steps towards recognizing Kosovo when it had recognized license plates and customs documents, but emphasizes that they now want it to be permanent and formal.

When asked if the US stood with European allies regarding the resolution of the European Parliament calling for an independent international investigation into the elections in Serbia, Escobar says that the ODIHR report was quite thorough and fair.

"We have stated that the ODIHR report, which we support, provides clear recommendations and highlights significant shortcomings in the electoral process in Serbia. Our position is that this must be rectified, and it must be rectified by the next elections - whether they are national or local. The European Parliament is an institution that is independent of the EU - the European Commission and the European Council. Our engagement goes through the Quint and the ODIHR. We did not have any involvement in that resolution, but we share similar concerns - that the ODIHR report has highlighted some shortcomings that must be addressed," Escobar emphasized.

He adds that it is important for Serbia to have a legal process through which the opposition addresses its concerns, and the government that is elected will be considered legitimate.

"As long as it continues to work on the ODIHR recommendations, as long as institutions investigate allegations of irregularities, we will work with the Government of Serbia. We want the Government of Serbia to continue on the path towards the EU, which means orientation towards the West. We have always said that we think it is a good idea for Serbia to impose sanctions on Russia, and we believe that regional stability depends on progress in the dialogue. We absolutely have expectations from the new government, as well as aspirations regarding our bilateral relations," Escobar said.