US postpones the Balkan Peace Summit, in the wake of Trump’s foreign policy

Hašim Tači
Valdrin Xhemaj/EPA, via Shutterstock

The White House planned to host the presidents of Serbia and Kosovo on Saturday. At the time, the Kosovo leader was indicted for war crimes.

The US-mediated Balkan Stabilization Initiative, which the Trump administration hoped could destroy his foreign policy powers in an election year, was postponed Thursday after one of the main participants, Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, was indicted on war crimes charges.

Mr. Thaci is expected to meet with his Serbian counterpart, President Aleksandar Vucic, at the White House on Saturday, chaired by Richard Grenell, President Trump’s envoy. U.S. officials hoped the rally could pave the way for long tensions between the two Balkan countries to finally reconcile.

Kosovo seceded from Serbia in 1999, backed by the NATO bombing campaign, but Serbia never recognized Kosovo’s independence. Transport links between the two countries remain limited while economic ties are strained.

Mr Grenell hoped Saturday’s summit could boost trade and business relations between the two countries, giving impetus to formal peace talks later in the year.

But the process was augmented on Wednesday by prosecutors in the Netherlands, who announced they had filed war crimes charges against Mr Thaci for his alleged role in killing and abusing Serbs, Roma and Kosovo Albanians while he was a guerrilla leader during the 1998 Kosovo war and 1999. and its consequences.

The charges are yet to be accepted by judges in a special court set up by the Kosovo parliament in 2015 to try Kosovo war crimes indictees, based in the Netherlands, to allow its international staff to operate more freely.

Mr Thaci soon cut short a visit to Washington, which was quickly followed by Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti. On Thursday, an adviser to the Serbian president said the meeting had been canceled. Mr Grenell confirmed on Twitter that the meeting would be postponed, but did not set a date.

More than 13,000 people were killed in and after the war in Kosovo, according to data compiled by the Center for Humanitarian Law, an independent law enforcement officer with offices in both Kosovo and Serbia.

Most were Kosovo Albanians killed by Serb forces, often in mass killings for which several Serbs were held responsible. But more than 2,000 Serbs, Kosovo Albanians and Roma were killed by NATO bombs or Kosovo guerrilla groups, such as the Kosovo Liberation Army, which Mr Thaci helped lead.

Mr Thaci’s office declined to comment on the allegations, which include murder, persecution and torture, but has historically denied similar allegations. Another politician named in the indictment – Kadri Veseli, who leads the party founded by Mr Thaci, refused on Wednesday.

The postponement of the summit limits events to a few months for Mr Grenel and his career in foreign policy.

Between February and May, he was acting director of Trump’s national intelligence service, at the same time serving as US ambassador to Germany, a role he resigned in May, and a special presidential envoy for Serbia-Kosovo peace talks.

During February and March, he became increasingly divided in Kosovo as he put strong pressure on Kosovo politicians as he made small demands of Serbia, an ally of Russia.

The most controversial was considered to be taking sides in the political dispute between Mr. Thaci and Albin Kurti, the then Prime Minister. After Mr Grenell spoke out against Mr Kurti, the latter was abandoned by his coalition partners, which led to the collapse of his government and caused a constitutional crisis in Kosovo.

In May, Mr. Grenell was criticized for politicizing the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, when he declassified documents related to Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn.

And this month, it attracted bipartisan concerns after prompting the withdrawal of thousands of U.S. troops from Germany, which the critics considered a move detrimental to U.S. military planning.