Wed, 19 Feb 2020

BELGRADE -- Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and the U.S. special envoy for Serbia and Kosovo say talks are planned for next week about restoring a railway link between the two Balkan neighbors.

"We have an agreement in principle and we will meet in Berlin on Monday [January 27]," Richard Grenell, who also serves as U.S. ambassador to Germany, said on January 24 following talks with Vucic in Belgrade.

Grenell said he had also discussed plans to resume a railway link between Belgrade and Pristina with Kosovar leaders during his visit to Kosovo on January 22-23.

The announcement comes after the U.S. envoy on January 20 mediated the signing of an agreement between Kosovo and Serbia on the resumption of commercial flights between their capitals that were broken two decades ago, when the 1998-99 Kosovo conflict escalated.

Relations between Pristina and Belgrade have remained strained after the Kosovo war that claimed more than 10,000 lives and left over 1 million people homeless.

Serbia continues to consider its former province part of its territory, although its independence, declared in 2008, has been recognized by about 100 countries, including the United States.

Talks on normalizing diplomatic relations were derailed in November 2018 by Pristina's imposition of 100-percent tariffs on Serbian goods and services in response to Belgrade's continued lobbying for countries to reverse their recognition of Kosovo.

During his visits to Pristina and Belgrade, Grenell urged the two neighbors to overcome their differences and to focus on economic development.

"The tariffs must be dropped, that is unacceptable," he said after meeting with Vucic. "I also have the same request here, which is: The de-recognition campaign must stop."

The Serbian president said his country has lost 435 million euros ($480 million) because of the taxes, while Serbian companies have been pushed out of Kosovo's market.

'It's senseless to have a railway line and at the same time no goods traveling on those trains,' Vucic said.

With reporting by AP

Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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