The View From Belgrade and Tirana Is Similar – Biden Admin Is Missing Historic Opportunity Trump Gave Them in the Balkans
I have spent the last 10 days traveling throughout Serbia and Albania listening to the people and talking to various Balkan leaders. I am very hopeful that most of the region is moving away from the disagreements of the past and moving toward regional cooperation.
This is very good news.
President Trump’s Economic Normalization Agreement, brokered in Washington, D.C., in early September 2020, kick-started a new era from a previously dead process. The historic steps in 2020 for Serbia and Kosovo haven’t been easy and their continued implementation was certainly hampered by COVID-19 lockdowns. But President Trump’s creativity and insistence that Kosovo and Serbia concentrate on economic development and jobs for young people, instead of the usual political talks, proved to change the status quo. The leaders in the Balkans all know that this type of American leadership is crucial; and without it, more progress cannot be made.
One Balkan leader even told me that progress won’t be made unless the United States is intimately involved. President Trump was so successful in bringing the parties together for four separate signing agreements because he and our team focused consistent pressure on all the parties.
The agreements were hard fought. They opened borders and laid out a strategy for direct economic engagement and cooperation.
But sadly, Balkan leaders today know that the process for implementing these historic agreements is dead – again. The leaders are hesitant to say it out loud, but everyone is greatly disappointed in the silence of the Biden Administration. They are missing in action. They’ve abandoned American leadership and turned the issues over to the European Union (EU). Berlin, Paris, and Brussels are ecstatic about Biden’s strategy; but Pristina, Tirana, and Belgrade are not. Everyone in the region is saying the same thing, “Where is Biden?”
Sadly, they know President Biden hasn’t taken advantage of the opening created by President Trump. It’s quite juvenile and partisan for Jake Sullivan and Tony Blinken to refuse to engage on Balkan issues simply because President Trump made so much progress. They don’t want to appear to help on an issue that has become a signature issue for former President Trump. But their selfishness sacrifices American security and stymies the expansion of capitalism in a region dominated by Communist China and Russia. Albanian-Americans and Serbian Americans should be outraged by the Biden Administration’s refusal to help the region by deferring to the Europeans.
Everyone in the region knows the European leaders have failed the people of the Balkans. The leaders have made promises they haven’t kept, and they’ve ignored the progress the region has made to comply with the EU’s demands. Frankly speaking, the leaders in the Balkans prefer the nimble and persistent leadership of the Americans over the endless talks the European leaders schedule.
Take, for instance, the opening of the Merdare border crossing between Kosovo and Serbia. The Europeans tried unsuccessfully for years to get it done, and yet President Trump negotiated the opening in less than a year.
And if the historic deal to jointly develop Lake Trump is so problematic for Joe Biden’s White House, then call it Lake Biden – and move it forward. The current U.S. policy to let the Europeans take charge is wildly unpopular in the region because everyone knows that progress will simply not be done with the European Union in charge.
But time is of the essence. The Trump Economic Normalization Agreement forced the parties to stop all recognition and de-recognition campaigns for one year. Both Kosovo and Serbia have abided by that promise, for now. But their obligations run out on September 4, 2021. And the Biden team has done nothing to negotiate an extension. Without American leadership, we simply will not see any more progress in the region; the Biden team is missing a historic opportunity to build upon the opening created for them by the Trump team.
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