Kosovo government. Photo: EPA/ Valdrin Xhemaj
Kosovo’s Prime Minister sounded a defiant note, after the country’s biggest ally, the US, warned future collaboration was at risk if Kosovo does not scrap the high tariffs it has imposed on imports from Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina.
A letter from the US Deputy Assistant of State Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Laura Cooper and Principal Director for European Affairs John Erath warned Kosovo in the strongest terms that it was putting its relationship with Washington in danger over 100-per-cent import taxes imposed late last year.
Prime Minister Ramush Haradinaj insisted on his previous stance, however, saying the taxes would only go when Serbia recognizes the independence of its former province, proclaimed in 2008.
“We explained our position, that I love America, but I will not yield to Serbia and Russia,” Haradinaj stated after meeting the US ambassador to Kosovo, Philip Kosnett, on Tuesday.
Haradinaj spoke after Kosovo leaders met on Tuesday, following receipt of the letter from the three US officials who told of potential cracks in their partnership if the taxes are not withdrawn.
The Prime Minister insisted that the taxes were not imposed in retaliation over any one, single matter.
“The tax is not about America, or about the latest developments in the [stalled EU-led] dialogue [with Serbia], but is [a response to] 20 years of a frozen conflict, and we are tired. We seek a final Kosovo-Serbia agreement with mutual recognition. I want to lift the tax, but it has to be linked to recognition,” Haradinaj told the media.
The Prime Minister urged the US to understand that Kosovo has been waiting over 20 years since 2008 for a resolution to the dispute over its statehood with Serbia – and also reminded them of Kosovo’s loyalty.
“I call on America to understand that there is no people outside America that loves America more than Kosovo,” Haradinaj said.
“Serbia is playing jokes with us, revoking our recognitions [by other countries]. It is disputing our borders, and attacking the families of Kosovo Security Force members,” Haradinaj added.
[With aid from its ally, Russia, Serbia claims to have persuaded a number of small states around the world to withdraw their earlier recognition of Kosovo’s independence.]
But the letter said Kosovo was putting future collaboration at risk.
“These actions undermine the United States’ ability to continue to collaborate with you on a wide range of shared objectives,” the letter sent on Tuesday read.
It said that since Kosovo had ignored its earlier request to revoke the tax decision, the US will now take steps to show its concern, “including with regard to our security partnership”, Kosovo’s public broadcaster, RTK, reported.
Amid these developments, the letter said the US had canceled a planned visit of the Iowa National Guard General, Timothy Orr.
“Given the unhelpful actions your government has taken, it would be inappropriate for such a visit to occur. We will be looking carefully at other aspects of our cooperation and reviewing if they should also be curtailed,” it added.
The letter, however, insisted that the US continues to support Kosovo in reaching a comprehensive agreement with Serbia “centered on mutual recognition, which is durable, implementable and benefits both sides”.
Haradinaj said he is convinced that the US is still committed to stabilising Kosovo, Serbia and the whole region.
“We understand correctly everything coming from America and we understand that they implement their principles,” he said.
The US diplomats pointed out that Washington’s only intent is to see both Kosovo and Serbia acting responsibly to get the EU-led dialogue back on track, by Kosovo suspending the tariffs as the first step.
“Until you have done so, we cannot restore our relationship to our previous robust level,” the US warned.
Kosovo imposed the 100-per-cent tax on Serbian imports last November, after failing to gain membership of the international police body Interpol, which it credited to Serbian lobbying. Earlier, it imposed an import tax of 10 per cent.
Both the US and EU have called on Kosovo to drop the import tax, saying it undermines the EU-led talks with Serbia and contradicts Kosovo’s membership of the regional free-trade zone, CEFTA.