Washington, Sep 4 (efe-epa).- US President Donald Trump welcomed the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo to the White House on Friday for the signing of an agreement normalizing economic ties between Belgrade and the territory that Serbs still officially regard as a province of their country.
“I’m pleased to announce a truly historic commitment: Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization,” he said, flanked by Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti.
“After a violent and tragic history, and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide. By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough – something that nobody thought was going to be possible,” Trump said.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after a NATO bombing campaign forced Belgrade to withdraw its forces from the Albanian-majority province.
While 100 countries have recognized the Republic of Kosovo, Serbia continues to call it the Autonomous Province of Kosovo and Metohija, though Belgrade agreed in 2013 to acknowledge the Pristina government’s administration of the territory.
Nations that do not recognize Kosovo’s independence include China, Russia and European Union member-states Spain, Slovakia, Cyprus, Romania and Greece.
“If you’ll allow me, I’m really honored and privileged to be here and representing Serbia here in the Oval Office. And thank you, Mr. President, for doing a great job,” Vucic said during Friday’s event.
He went on to invite Trump to visit Serbia, noting that the last US president to do so was Jimmy Carter, who traveled to Belgrade in 1980 for the funeral of Yugoslav head of state Josip Broz Tito.
“Come to Serbia and you’ll see the most hospitable reception,” Vucic told Trump.
“Mr. President. Well, thank you very much for your exceptional role and for your great team that we came to this point. I think, absolutely, this is a great moment for Kosovo and for the region,” Hoti said.
The signing followed two days of talks in Washington that involved Hoti, Vucic and US officials led by Richard Grennell, the interim director of National Intelligence, who was named by Trump last year as special envoy for negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo.
Trump used the occasion to announce an accord for Israel to recognize Kosovo, which is to open an embassy in Jerusalem and accept the Israeli proclamation of the undivided Holy City as its capital.
The US president also praised Serbia’s plan to move its embassy to Jerusalem next year.
Trump transferred the US diplomatic mission from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 2018 and urged other countries to follow suit.
Guatemala and Paraguay heeded the call from Washington, but the Paraguayan Embassy returned to Tel Aviv after a change of government in Asuncion.
Within hours of the Oval Office ceremony, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed the pact with Kosovo and Serbia’s commitment to move its embassy.
The Israeli premier noted that Kosovo will be the first Muslim nation to have an embassy in Jerusalem.
The Holy City was divided in 1948 with the founding of Israel, which occupied mainly Arab East Jerusalem in 1967 during the Six-Day War.
The overwhelmingly majority of United Nations member-states support the Palestinian claim to East Jerusalem as capital of their future state.
Under the US-brokered 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians, Jerusalem’s final status is to be settled by negotiations. EFE