Kosovo must not settle for a bad deal

Friday’s meeting at the White House looks set to be the culmination of Richard Grenell’s calamitous attempts at diplomacy, and Kosovo must resist US pressure to accept a meaningless, quick-fix agreement.

It is often said that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that certainly seems to be what’s at stake during this week’s Kosovo-Serbia summit at the White House. 

All indications seem to be that the Trump Administration is looking for a deal – any deal – to justify the assertions of US Special Envoy Richard Grenell, and prove all his bloviating achieved something just in time for the US presidential election. 

Grenell has bungled Kosovo-Serbia relations from the start, which is unsurprising considering he had no experience or understanding of the dynamics of the Balkans. 

His most notable mistake has been cutting out the European Union. There are no two states with a greater connection to Kosovo than the United States and Germany, and Grenell had every opportunity to be a successful envoy by utilizing his position as US Ambassador to Germany to leverage a positive outcome for Kosovo. Instead, we have missed the chance to work together. 

There is no long-term solution to Kosovo-Serbia issues without the sustained involvement of the European Union, and especially not without the Germans. Without European involvement, any announcement from the Trump Administration this week is moot.

It is not possible to walk into the complexities of diplomacy in the region without a modicum of understanding of history, but that is exactly what Grenell has done. Seemingly bored at the time with being ambassador to one of the United States’ most important allies, he decided to assume the role of chief negotiator to one of the world’s most complex diplomatic issues.

Since taking this role, Grenell has shown more interest in self-promotion on cable television to assure audiences how smart he is and courageously “owning the libs” on social media than in building trust in Kosovo and Serbia.

Grenell does not even pretend to understand the historic implications of the Kosovo-Serbia conflict. The agreements he has facilitated up until now are entirely to the benefit of Serbia’s economic and strategic goals, such as the restoration of Lufthansa’s Belgrade to Prishtina flight. These deals are for the sake of headlines not their outcomes.

However, aside from Grenell’s incompetence, Kosovo should also be concerned about the behavior of the Trump Administration towards its ally in comparison to their treatment of Serbia. Up until now, this administration has continually played hardball with Kosovo, while appeasing Serbia. 

One example is the extreme pressure on Kosovo to drop its tariffs on Serbian goods, while choosing not to implement mandatory sanctions against Serbia through the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act. This administration has even chosen to violate US law in order to appease Serbia and keep them at the negotiating table. 

Kosovo’s great fault may be trusting this administration to have the best intentions for Kosovo when it has proven time and time again that this may not be the case. Kosovo must be willing to stand up to Washington to get the solution they deserve.

How can Kosovo turn the tables in their favour? First by choosing the interlocutor who will have their best interest at heart in any negotiations. 

For the United States, I believe that person in the meeting will be Matthew Palmer, who should have been building the parameters of the Kosovo-Serbia summit from the outset once he was named as Special Representative for the Western Balkans. Palmer, unlike Grenell, has all the qualities to facilitate a successful outcome for Kosovo and the region at large. 

Furthermore, Kosovo needs to find allies in Congress and the American business community who will be champions for the special relationship we have. Kosovo should not be investing in dodgy foreign lobbyists just because of their perceived connections to President Trump. This is unsustainable and risks alienating support where it matters – Congress. 

It is vital for Kosovo to seek and employ lobbyists and advisors that will have the greatest influence over the longest period. Most importantly, Kosovo must not be fooled with any vague promise of financial reward in exchange for committing to any deal with Serbia. 

Remember, Congress, not the White House, controls the purse of the American treasury and any promise of financial aid must be guaranteed by leadership in the House of Representatives and US Senate.

Kosovo must also leverage their appeal by working with the American media and influencers, even the right-wing news media which has seemingly been influenced by Serbia. Just last week Fox News’ Tucker Carlson insinuated that Kosovo is a failed state that looks like the current riots ongoing in America. 

Carlson’s baseless assertion proves that Serbia has clearly invested significant resources in building that notion, presenting Kosovo as a “failed state,” even as it becomes increasingly more belligerent in its anti-democratic actions under President Vucic.

Friday’s meeting is going to generate a lot of interest, but the value of any ‘deal’ might be less than the piece of paper on which it is written. Do not fall for the trap of a deal for a deal’s sake. There is too much at stake. 

My advice is simple: rely on the trusted friendship of an interlocutor who understands the Kosovo-Serbia dynamic, encourage the inclusion of the European Union on any final deal because without their input none of next week matters, find allies in Congress and lobbyists who share your long-term goals, connect with the American people via sports, entertainment and media and do not roll over for the United States because of our past history. 

Kosovo should not rush headlong into a deal that could be meaningless, while it also has to realize that by having patience Kosovo has all the leverage. Now more than ever Kosovo must stand up for herself as the independent, outward facing nation that she is, even if it befouls the current United States administration’s grand design. 

Kosovo must not be used as a campaign prop that justifies bad faith negotiations by Special Envoy Grenell. Kosovo deserves better than to have its sovereignty chipped away because of the deadline of an American election, especially given there is no guarantee the people negotiating will even be in power in a mere five months. In Washington next week Kosovo has the opportunity to chart the future it deserves, its delegation should not settle for less.

Jason Frederick Emert is an attorney, Republican strategist, foreign affairs adviser and an adjunct professor of international law and international relations. He is the founder of The Emert Group, a global public affairs firm and formerly served as the chairman of both the Young Republican National Federation (2017-2019) and the International Young Democrat Union (2014-2016).

The opinions expressed in the opinion section are those of the authors only and do not necessarily reflect the views of BIRN.

Illustration: Jete Dobranja for Prishtina Insight.

31 August 2020 - 10:26

Jason Emert

31/08/2020 - 10:26

Prishtina Insight is a digital and print magazine published by BIRN Kosovo, an independent, non-governmental organisation. To find out more about the organization please visit the official website. Copyright © 2016 BIRN Kosovo.