Serbia Keeps Pressure on Kosovo Despite Western Push for Thaw

(Bloomberg) -- Serbia maintained pressure over international recognition of its former province of Kosovo, even as the U.S. and the European Union step up efforts to bring about a lasting peace between the wartime foes.

Serbia announced Tuesday that Sierra Leone had withdrawn its recognition of Kosovo, making it the 18th nation to be lobbied into doing so, though Western countries widely consider it a sovereign state.

The move may complicate mediation efforts just days after the U.S. instructed Kosovo to cancel a 100% tariff on imports from Serbia that’s been in place since 2018. Serbia and Kosovo must settle their differences before they can fulfill goals to join the EU.

Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti offered to gradually remove the levy if Serbia halts the campaign against its sovereignty. But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the U.S.’s envoy to the region, Richard Grenell, demanded the tax be scrapped unconditionally.

“We await the removal of the tax so we can resume dialog,” Vucic said late Monday in Washington after meeting with Grenell, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, according to state broadcaster RTS.

Kurti has come under fire from hard-liners at home for even offering to end the levy before Serbia recognizes Kosovo as a sovereign state. But his government partners are also wary about defying advice from the U.S., the key backer of independence for Europe’s newest country.

Kosovo may review its position on the tax this week, Berat Rukiqi, head of the Kosovo Chamber of Commerce, told a Serbia-organized business forum late Monday.

“Everyone agrees tariffs should be lifted, but the mechanisms and time-frame differ,” he said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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