What happened to the Washington Agreement? – Three years later

On Monday, 4 September, it was three years since Serbia and Kosovo concluded the so-called Washington Agreement, which Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and then Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti signed in the White House in the presence of US President Donald Trump.

The Serbian and Kosovar officials signed two documents, which differ only slightly – in the last provision. Although, according to the interpretations of most lawyers, it is a question of legally non-binding declarations of intentions, the implementation of the agreement, negotiated with the mediation of the USA, was assumed as a political obligation.

Three years later, it is clear that the implementation of the Washington Agreement has “fallen into oblivion.” Most of the provisions, out of a total of 16 in the Serbian and Kosovo declaration of intent, have not been fully fulfilled to this day.

What has been (partially) implemented?

In the agreement officially named “economic normalization of relations”, only 8 of the 16 provisions referred to economic cooperation between Serbia and Kosovo. Half of the agreed provisions concerned other (political) issues, and it was there that the most concrete results were achieved in the first year of implementation.

Provision 15 of the Washington Agreement, which at the time was considered essential for easing tensions between Belgrade and Pristina, provided for a one-year moratorium on Kosovo’s application for membership in international organizations and on the Serbian campaign to withdraw recognition of Kosovo. It was fully implemented, thanks to American engagement. Even after the formal expiration of the moratorium, the two sides indeed continued in the following months to adhere to the gist of the provisions.

However, in May 2022, the Kosovo government applied for membership in the Council of Europe, which provoked a negative reaction from the Serbian leadership and an explicit reference to the then-somewhat forgotten Washington Agreement.

Aleksandar Vucic pointed out that in case of Kosovo’s violation of the agreement, Serbia would also return to the campaign of withdrawing recognition. Although no new recognitions of Kosovo’s independence were announced in the previous year, Serbian officials have repeatedly claimed that they have notes on the withdrawal of recognition by several countries.

On the other hand, the European proposal on the path to the normalization of relations accepted by Aleksandar Vucic and Albin Kurti in February this year, in Article 4, contains Serbia’s obligation not to prevent Kosovo’s membership in international organizations. Given the confusing statements about the implementation of the European proposal, it remains unclear to what extent the two sides will adhere to the provisions in this domain.

The final provision of the Washington Agreement – the only one that differs in the documents signed by the Serbian president and the Kosovo prime minister – has also been largely fulfilled. Serbia agreed to open a branch of its Chamber of Commerce in Jerusalem, which was done in November 2020, but still did not move its embassy to Jerusalem (as foreseen by the second part of the given article) by the deadline of 1 July 2021, nor was it done in the following period. The mutual recognition of Kosovo and Israel, defined in provision 16 of the document signed by Avdullah Hoti, followed in February 2021, and Pristina opened an embassy in Jerusalem before 1 July of the same year.

Political scientist Ognjen Gogić believes that it is futile to comment on the implementation of the Washington Agreement for several reasons, one of them being that the supervision of its implementation was not entrusted to anyone.

“The United States administration has never positioned itself as a guarantor of that agreement, nor has it established any mechanism to monitor the implementation of its provisions. On the other hand, numerous provisions of that agreement actually represented the validation of previously assumed obligations. For this reason, some implemented obligations, such as the integrated management of the Merdare border crossing, or the beginning of the construction of a motorway segment, may not be attributed to the Washington Agreement,” explains Gogić.

He explains that the American agency DFC was opened at the American embassy in Belgrade, which was supposed to finance the infrastructure and economic projects provided for in the agreement. However, its director, John Jovanovic, was dismissed shortly after the change of administration in the White House and the agency shut down.  

“At the time, the Washington Agreement was signed, it was clear to everyone that it was the Trump’s administration short-term political trick. That’s why no one had high expectations that the accord could come to life. Still, it seems that nobody learned a lesson from this, so now we have this new European plan or the informally called Brussels-Ohrid agreement, which will have a similar destiny,” Gogić points out.

(Danas, N1, 04.09.2023)




This post is also available in: Italiano

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