The European Union warned Serbia and Kosovo on Monday that they could undermine their EU membership hopes by moving their Israeli embassies to Yerushalayim, as U.S. President Donald Trump’s surprise announcement about the change left officials in Belgrade and Pristina scrambling to limit the political fallout.
In an unexpected move last week, President Trump said that Serbia and Kosovo had agreed to normalize economic ties as part of U.S.-brokered talks that include Belgrade moving its embassy to Yerushalayim, and mutual recognition between Israel and Kosovo.
It surprised the Europeans, who are leading complex talks between Serbia and its former territory of Kosovo on improving their long-strained relations, while Serbian officials appeared to be watering down their commitment to Trump, and Kosovo sought to allay concerns among Muslim countries.
The 27-nation EU’s long-held policy is that Yerushalayim’s status should be worked out between Israel and the Palestinians as part of broader peace negotiations, and that Serbia — as a candidate to join the bloc — should respect that.
“There is no EU member state with an embassy in Jerusalem,” European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said. “Any diplomatic steps that could call into question the EU’s common position on Jerusalem are a matter of serious concern and regret.”
Trump announced Friday that “Serbia and Kosovo have each committed to economic normalization.”
Trump also said that Serbia has committed to open a commercial office in Yerushalayim this month and move its embassy there in July. The Trump administration recognized Yerushalayim as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moved the U.S. embassy there in May 2018.
Israel Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu thanked Serbia’s president and confirmed that Israel and Kosovo, a predominantly Muslim country, will establish diplomatic relations. He said Pristina also will open its embassy in Yerushalayim.
Stano, speaking as Serbian President Aleksander Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minster Avdullah Hoti were holding a new round of talks in Brussels on normalizing their relations, said the EU was told in advance only about the economic aspects of the White House event, not about movements in Yerushalayim.
In Belgrade, Serbian officials appeared to be stepping back from the embassy pledge, with Foreign Minister Ivica Dacic saying the final decision will still have to be discussed by the government and will depend on “a number of factors” including future development of ties with Israel.
Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008, around a decade after Belgrade sent troops into its former territory to crush an uprising by ethnic Albanian separatists. Serbia refuses to recognize Kosovo’s statehood, and tensions have simmered ever since.
In what was described as a “joint statement” issued by the office of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, Vucic and Hoti said they “committed to redoubling their efforts to ensure further EU alignment in accordance with their respective obligations.”
They appeared to play down Friday’s announcement, by saying that “the recently agreed documents in Washington, D.C., building on previous Dialogue-related commitments undertaken by the two parties, could provide a useful contribution to reaching a comprehensive, legally binding agreement on normalization of relations.”