Kosovo to recognise Israel, Serbia to relocate embassy
The agreement announced by US President Donald Trump on Friday follows two days of meeting between US officials, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo's Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti.
In addition to seeing the bitter Balkan rivals agree to cooperate on a range of economic fronts, the announcement furthers the Trump administration's push to improve Israel's international standing just weeks after a US-brokered pact to normalise ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.
"I'm pleased to announce a truly historic commitment," Trump said.
"After a violent and tragic history and years of failed negotiations, my administration proposed a new way of bridging the divide. By focusing on job creation and economic growth, the two countries were able to reach a major breakthrough," the president said.
Serbia has committed to opening a commercial office in Jerusalem this month and moving its embassy there in July, Trump said, indicating a nod of support for both Israel and the Trump administration.
Washington recognised Jerusalem as Israel's capital in late 2017 and moved the US embassy there in May 2018, a move criticised by much of the international community.
Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital, while Palestinian officials seek the city's eastern half as the capital of a future state. East Jerusalem was occupied by Israel in 1967 and later annexed, a decision widely seen as violating inernational law.
Traditionally most countries have maintained an embassy in Tel Aviv to reflect a neutral stance on the disputed status of Jerusalem.
Serbia will become the third country, after the US and Guatemala, to move its embassy to Jerusalem.
"I thank my friend President Vucic of Serbia for his decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital and move their embassy," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
Kosovo and Israel have also agreed to establish diplomatic ties. The predominantly Muslim country had previously not recognised Israel.
It will be the first "country with a Muslim majority to open an embassy in Jerusalem", Netanyahu said on Friday.
"As I have said in recent days, the circle of peace and recognition of Israel is widening and other nations are expected to join it," the embattled Israeli premier added.
That agreement comes just weeks after Trump announced his administration had brokered a deal to normalise ties between Israel and the UAE. Additional Arab states, including Sudan, Bahrain and Oman, have been identified as countries that may soon also normalise relations with Israel.
Kosovo's Parliament declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nine years after NATO conducted a 78-day airstrike campaign against Serbia to stop a bloody crackdown against ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Most Western nations have recognised Kosovo's independence, but Serbia and its allies Russia and China have not. The ongoing deadlock and Serbia's unwillingness to recognize Kosovo have kept tensions simmering and prevented full stabilization of the Balkan region after the bloody wars in the 1990s.
"We haven't resolved all our problems. There are still differences," the Serbian leader said, but he added that having a unified economic zone with Kosovo was a "huge step forward".
Hoti also described the economic cooperation as a "huge step forward" in the relationship and said the two leaders were committed to working together.
Serbia and Kosovo have already OK'd air, rail and transit agreements, including one that would clear the way for the first flight between Pristina and Belgrade in 21 years. The new agreement comprises many more areas of economic cooperation. Business leaders in both nations have been frustrated and have been talking among themselves about ways to foster investment outside of the ongoing political talks brokered by the European Union.
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