By Fatmir Aliu
Washington has urged Kosovo to be flexible in finding a solution to the dispute with Serbia on its participation in regional meetings.
US Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns left Kosovo on Saturday without addressing the press after meeting political leaders and Serbs clerics and signing a military agreement.
A press release issued later by the US embassy said Burns had urged Kosovo to compromise with Belgrade in the EU-led dialogue.
“As the United States and our European partners have said many times, we are asking both sides to be flexible and creative to ensure that both Serbia and Kosovo are able to participate in regional fora. Both sides must find a formula with which they can be comfortable,” he was quoted as saying.
Serbia still considers Kosovo a southern province and refuses to recognise its independence.
It says Kosovar delegations in regional gatherings should be referred to as “Kosovo 1244” – a reference to the 1999 UN Security Council resolution that ended Serbian control of the territory but left its final status unresolved.
The government of Kosovo, which declared independence in 2008, has rejected Belgrade’s position. The dispute between the two sides has left talks under EU auspices deadlocked. During the dialogue, Pristina has been insisting that Kosovo be represented as “The Republic of Kosovo”, a formula that Belgrade finds unacceptable.
The US Deputy Secretary of State is quoted as admitting that the issue is sensitive, but that what’s more important is the broader opportunity.
“This whole issue is about how Kosovo can win the right to represent itself in regional organizations and how to lay the foundation for closer relations with Europe. Winning that right, winning the chance to participate as an equal and to represent yourselves, is a major gain for Kosovo,” Burns said.
“All the other symbolic and technical questions … are less significant in comparison to having your own voice, your own seat at the table. That is what sovereignty is all about,” US Deputy Secretary of State Burns added.
However, Kosovo’s Prime Minister Hashim Thaci is under strong pressure from the public not to accept any compromise on the issue, as some argue that “Kosovo” alone, without the prefix “Republic of”, represents a breach of the constitution.
The opposition nationalist Self-determination (Vetevendosja) Movement recently started spraying graffiti in Pristina with the words “Republic of Kosovo” (in Albanian “Kosova Republikë”) in response to suggestions that the full name may be sacrificed in the the name of a solution to the row with Serbia.
The EU-mediated dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina started in March 2011 in order to normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia, both of which hope to join the EU one day. The two sides have reached deals on trade, freedom of movement, cadastral registry and mutual recognition of university diplomas.