U.S. diplomat Derek Chollet (left) with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Belgrade on January 12.
U.S. State Department Counselor Derek Chollet stressed the importance of the formation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities during a visit to Belgrade aimed at clearing the way for progress in the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo.
Chollet was in Belgrade on January 12 for talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, one day after he met with Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti in Pristina. He told journalists that he and Vucic discussed the formation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities, saying this is a key move that must be made and said it is in accordance with the constitution of Kosovo.
"We discussed this with the officials in Pristina and our position is that it should be implemented," said Chollet .
The formation of the association was agreed within the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina in Brussels, but the Constitutional Court of Kosovo found that some points of the agreement are not in accordance with Kosovo’s laws. Chollet said there is a chance for a compromise between Kosovo and Serbia and that the European Union has made a proposal that is a good basis for conversation. "What we wanted with this visit was to start those conversations. We hope that the negotiations will continue on the basis of that proposal," he said. He also said that the dialogue on the normalization of relations between Serbia and Kosovo is very important for the stability of the region and Europe, especially amid the war in Ukraine. He said that EU mediation on normalization is the best solution for the future of Kosovo and Serbia. The EU plan for improving relations between the two sides and achieving complete normalization was submitted to the authorities in Pristina and Belgrade at the end of the summer. The plan, which RFE/RL has seen, states that the parties are aware that the inviolability of borders, territorial integrity, and sovereignty and the protection of national minorities are the basic conditions for peace. The plan also envisages the recognition of state symbols and a special arrangement for the Serbian community in Kosovo. The plan was accepted by Kurti as "a good basis for further talks," while officials in Serbia expressed reservations on several occasions. Chollet said during his meeting with Vucic that Belgrade and Pristina should focus on discussions on the proposal for Kosovo, as well as on the rapid formation of an Association of Serbian Municipalities, according to the office of the president. In response to a journalist's question, Chollet said that he was concerned about the presence of the Russian Vagner Group in Serbia, particularly its attempts to recruit soldiers for the war in Ukraine, and is working with the government of Serbia and other countries to put an end to those activities. He also urged Serbia to introduce sanctions against Russia. "We believe that Russia's actions should not only be condemned but also punished. Russia launched a brutal and illegal war," he said, adding that Serbia is a partner, even though it has not joined the sanctions. Washington understands the difficult position some countries are in, he said, noting that Serbia has taken significant steps and condemned the war at the United Nations. Chollet met separately with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic and Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic, and Serbian Defense Minister Milos Vucevic. Branbic’s office said that Serbia remains committed to peace and stability and will continue to have a constructive approach through dialogue.