U.S., Germany Diverge on Serbia-Kosovo Plan to Redraw Border

(Bloomberg) -- Germany and the U.S. are diverging on a plan by Serbia and Kosovo to redraw their borders along ethnic lines. Berlin has warned it could reignite violence, while Washington sees risk in keeping things unchanged.

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo, Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci, are both campaigning for a land swap to normalize ties and meet a crucial requirement to open the way to European Union membership. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected the plan, saying it will stoke ethnic tensions in Europe’s most volatile region, but Vucic and Thaci have tried to muster international support.

“We are really and seriously concerned how the aim of the dialog has been framed, that territory is the only solution to anything,” Sabine Stoehr, the head of the western Balkan division in the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin, said at a security forum in Belgrade on Thursday. “We don’t believe that this will lead to a sustainable solution. Focusing on territory will lead the dialog to a deadlock.”

The EU has made it clear that no new state will be admitted as a member with unresolved border disputes. Serbia and Kosovo have held many rounds of EU-mediated political discussions since 2013, when the two signed the so-called Brussels Agreement, a pact that established a framework needed to mend ties.

U.S. Concerns

While the U.S. is also “not in favor of border adjustments,” it warned against keeping things unchanged, according to U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Kyle Scott.

“The status quo also has risks and not just risks of a frozen conflict,” Scott told the same conference. “There are risks in the current status quo, instabilities and tensions which could lead to a renewal of conflict in this region.”

The U.S. plans to give the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo “space to develop” a comprehensive, durable and implementable accord without “drawing red lines to say that this or that is unacceptable for us, but at the same time we have told the leaders of both sides very clearly that there is no blank check from the United States,” he said.

Serb Prime Minister Ana Brnabic was encouraged by the U.S. position and is also trying to avoid a frozen conflict, she said at the conference.

“I welcome any involvement that doesn’t set red lines,” Brnabic said on Friday. She said she “would not rule anything out,” when asked if she’d exclude the possibility of a land deal.

The U.S. “does not have a preferred outcome of the dialog we are not putting ideas forward,” Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said. “What we are trying to do is to encourage the partners to find the way forward.”

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