US envoy calls EU decision on Balkans ‘historic mistake’

International

Matthew Palmer, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the U.S.Department of State – Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, left, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic arrive for a news conference after their meeting in Belgrade, Serbia, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019. The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade does not recognize. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — A U.S. envoy for the Western Balkans on Monday described European Union’s decision not to open membership talks with North Macedonia and Albania as a “historic mistake” that sends a bad message to the region.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer said the U.S. will do all it can to persuade the EU to reverse the decision before a planned leaders’ meeting in May in Croatia.

“America wants the Western Balkans to have a European perspective,” Palmer said after talks in Belgrade with Serbia’s president, Aleksandar Vucic.

French President Emmanuel Macron has refused to allow any new countries into the 28-nation bloc until its enlargement procedures have been reformed, while the Netherlands opposes Albania’s candidacy and disputes the commission’s assessment.

The decision was seen as a setback for the region where EU membership prospect has been a strong source of encouragement for reform and reconciliation after the war that followed the breakup of the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

“We believe it was a historic mistake,” Palmer said. “It is a bad message to the entire region.”

The U.S. has intensified efforts to help relaunch stalled talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, a former province whose 2008 declaration of independence Belgrade doesn’t recognize.

Vucic says normalization talks could resume in two to three months. They have been blocked for nearly a year following Kosovo’s decision to impose a 100% trade tax on goods from Serbia in response to Belgrade’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence.

“We want the dialogue to be serious, responsible and lead to a compromise solution,” Vucic said.

Washington and its allies have recognized Kosovo’s independence, while Russia, China and five EU nations have backed Belgrade.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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