Kosovar and Serbian Leaders Seek a Resolution During Talks at the White House

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: Kosovar and Serbian leaders meet in Washington for talks, Russia prepares for military exercises in the eastern Mediterranean, and French President Emmanuel Macron meets with Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara.

We’re taking a break Monday for Labor Day, but we’ll be back on Tuesday. As always, we welcome your feedback at [email protected].

Talks Represent a Step Forward, but There Is Little Prospect for a Resolution 

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovar Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti will meet at the White House today for the second day of talks aimed at resolving bilateral tensions. The meeting will be hosted by U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and Richard Grenell, the U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo peace negotiations. It is unclear if President Donald Trump will participate.

On Thursday, Grenell tweeted that “the people of Kosovo and Serbia deserve economic normalization and the chance to create a vibrant economy,” which comports with the White House’s stated intention of “flipping the script” of the dialogue and prioritizing economic issues over political ones. Vucic will also reportedly seek to build an economic relationship with Kosovo during the meeting.

Recognition is paramount. But Kosovo has different priorities. The breakaway republic is not recognized diplomatically by Serbia, from whom it declared independence in 2008 after fighting a brutal war for independence in the late 1990s. In a Q&A with Foreign Policy on the eve of the current round of talks, Hoti said that “the main issue remains a final settlement, a peace agreement between the two countries that will solve once and forever the open issue between the two countries, which is mutual recognition.”

Withstanding the pressure. The European Union, which has so far led talks between the two sides, insists that mutual recognition is a necessary precondition for both countries to enter the bloc, but Vucic has resisted calls for recognition of Kosovo. In a Q&A with Foreign Policy in March, he warned that “the vast majority of people in Serbia … would prefer a frozen conflict [with Kosovo] to any single solution.”

Electioneering. Some observers believe that Trump is hoping the talks will help boost his foreign-policy credentials in the months leading up the November presidential election. In recent weeks, the administration has also brokered a historic peace deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and successfully pressured the Afghan government to release the last Taliban prisoners needed to begin talks with the group.


What We’re Following Today

Russia turns up the heat in the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey announced late Wednesday evening that Russian forces will conduct live-fire exercises in the eastern Mediterranean amid a deepening crisis with Greece. Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas said the Russian exercises would be “monitored by all the countries in the region, as well as our NATO allies and European Union partners.”

It is unclear why Turkey announced the exercises on Russia’s behalf, but the two countries have sought to strengthen their ties in recent years, so it could be a sign that Russia is prepared to flex its military muscle in support of Turkey’s regional ambitions.

U.S. keeps pressure on Belarus. Lithuania announced that U.S. troops will be moved from Poland to Lithuania to take part in two-month-long military exercises in the country amid growing tensions between the Baltic state and Belarus. Although it stressed that the exercises are “defensive in nature and not directed against any neighbor, including Belarus,” they are now due to start earlier and last longer than they were originally planned.

Lithuania is currently hosting Belarus’s high-profile opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, and it recently joined Latvia and Estonia in imposing sanctions on Belarus. For its part, Belarus has accused NATO of amassing a troop presence along its western border, though NATO denies those claims.

Sea change in Montenegro. Longtime Montenegrin President Milo Djukanovic said he is prepared to go into opposition for the first time since the end of the Cold War after his pro-Western Democratic Party of Socialists (DPS) and its traditional allies fell just short of a majority in last weekend’s parliamentary elections. Three opposition alliances—some of which contain strong pro-Serbian and pro-Russian elements—rode a wave of public discontent led by the Serbian Orthodox Church to a strong performance at the polls, and have agreed to share power in a new government.

During the campaign, Djukanovic—who has spearheaded the country’s accession to NATO and its attempt to gain entry into the European Union—framed the election as a battle between his pro-Western party and the Russia-aligned theocratic opposition. But on Monday, opposition leaders announced that they would continue to pursue Montenegro’s admission to the European Union.

Tribunal on Uighur cultural genocide. A prominent U.K. human rights lawyer will convene an independent tribunal in London to investigate allegations that the Chinese government’s activities against Xinjiang province’s Uighur community constitute cultural genocide. The tribunal lacks government backing, but the lawyer, Geoffrey Nice, previously worked for the International Criminal Court and led the prosecution of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He was asked by the World Uighur Congress to investigate “ongoing atrocities and possible genocide.” The tribunal is expected to convene next year.

As Azeem Ibrahim wrote for Foreign Policy in December 2019, the evidence pointing to cultural genocide is now overwhelming, and the international community has “an unambiguous moral duty to intervene.”

Macron set to meet Ouattara. Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron today as the country lurches toward a constitutional crisis in the lead-up to its October presidential election. Ouattara is seeking a third term as president, which critics say is a blatant violation of the two-term limit enshrined in the constitution. His supporters have dismissed these accusations, saying that the term limit does not apply to elected officials who served before the current constitution’s ratification in 2016. Ouattara took over the presidency in 2010.

Macron has urged the older generation of African leaders in France’s former colonies to hand power to the younger generation, and he praised Ouattara in March when he initially declared he would not run. But the sudden death of his chosen successor in July thrust him back into the conversation, sparking protests against his rule and forcing Macron to intervene.

At a campaign rally in North Carolina, Trump urged his supporters to vote twice—once by mail and once in person—in the upcoming presidential election. Trump has repeatedly questioned the validity of mail-in voting, which is widely seen as an attempt to discredit the election results.

Voting twice is illegal in the United States, but White House officials denied that Trump was actually urging his supporters to commit voter fraud. But when Attorney General William Barr was asked about Trump’s remarks, he balked at the question, repeatedly claiming that he didn’t know what the particular laws were for voting twice in any given state. Voting twice in a single election is illegal across the United States under federal law.

That’s it for today.

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