Trump’s envoy urges Kosovo to drop taxes on Serbian goods

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In this photo taken Friday, Jan. 24, 2020, U.S. President Donald Trump’s envoy for the Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Ambassador Richard Grenell listens Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic during a press conference after their meeting, in Belgrade, Serbia. Grenell urged the new Kosovo government to abolish punitive tariffs on Serbian goods that have blocked negotiations between the two Balkan rivals. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

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BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — U.S. President Donald Trump’s special envoy for Kosovo and Serbia on Tuesday urged the new Kosovo government to follow up on an agreement to abolish punitive tariffs on Serbian goods that have blocked negotiations between the two Balkan rivals.

Richard Grenell, who is the U.S. ambassador to Germany, said that “we expect the tariffs to be dropped immediately.”

“We made clear to all the (Kosovo) party leaders that dropping the tariffs was in the best interest of Kosovo and its economy, and the desire to attract new businesses. And the party leaders agreed,” he said in an emailed statement to The Associated Press.

A European Union-mediated dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo over normalizing ties stalled after the previous Kosovo government imposed the 100% taxes on Serbian goods in protest of Serbia’s blockade of Kosovo in the International Red Cross and other international organizations.

Kosovo’s parliament on Monday voted in a new prime minister after nearly four months of talks between the country’s two main parties.

Albin Kurti, the new premier, has said in the past he would lift the trade tariffs, but on Monday he indicated that Kosovo will introduce unspecified other measures.

“With Serbia we will have full reciprocity in trade, politics and economy,” Kurti told the parliament. “I’m ready to lead the talks with Serbia.”

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell congratulated Kurti, a former hard-line opposition party leader, on his election and urged for a quick resumption of Kosovo-Serbia talks.

“The current status quo is not tenable,” he said in a statement.

Grenell, who is leading a parallel U.S. peace initiative in the Balkans, last month brokered tentative deals to resume railway and air links between Kosovo and Serbia that have been suspended for 21 years.

“We are making historic progress,” Grenell said. “There are more announcements coming soon because both sides are eager to move forward. These moves will create a better life for the people of the region.”

Serbia’s intervention against Kosovo’s independence-seeking ethnic Albanians in 1998-99 prompted NATO to intervene and stop the conflict.

Serbia and its allies Russia and China don’t accept Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence, although Serbia’s former province has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the U.S. and most EU nations.

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Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed to this report from Tirana, Albania.

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