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Friday, September 28, 2012

Kosovo: Current Issues and U.S. Policy

Steven Woehrel
Specialist in European Affairs

On February 17, 2008, Kosovo declared its independence from Serbia. The United States and 22 of the 27 EU countries (including key countries such as France, Germany, Britain, and Italy) have recognized Kosovo’s independence. The Kosovo government claims that 91 countries in all have extended diplomatic recognition to it.

When it declared independence, Kosovo pledged to implement the Comprehensive Proposal for the Kosovo Status Settlement, drafted by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. The document contains provisions aimed at safeguarding the rights of ethnic Serbs and other minorities. An International Civilian Representative (whose role ended in September 2012) and EULEX, a European Unionled law-and-order mission, have been tasked with guaranteeing Kosovo’s implementation of the plan. KFOR, a NATO-led peacekeeping force that includes several hundred U.S. soldiers, has the mission of providing a secure environment.

Serbia strongly objects to Kosovo’s declaration of independence. It has used diplomatic means to try to persuade countries to not recognize Kosovo. It has retained parallel governing institutions in Serb-majority areas in Kosovo. However, after a July 2010 International Court of Justice ruling that Kosovo’s declaration of independence was not illegal, the EU pressured Serbia into agreeing to hold direct talks with Kosovo over technical issues. The talks, which got underway in March 2011, produced agreements on freedom of movement, trade, land registry records, and other issues. However, many of the accords have not been implemented or only partly implemented. Serbia, Kosovo, and the EU are discussing the format and content of future talks, which may include the situation of the north of Kosovo, now under de facto Serbian control.

Kosovo faces other daunting challenges, aside from those posed by its struggle for international recognition and the status of its ethnic minorities. According to an October 2011 European Commission report on Kosovo, the country suffers from weak institutions, including the judiciary and law enforcement. Kosovo has high levels of government corruption and powerful organized crime networks. Many Kosovars are poor and reported unemployment is very high.

The United States has supported the EU-brokered talks between Serbia and Kosovo, but has stressed that it is an observer, not a participant in them. On September 10, 2012, the White House issued a statement by President Obama hailing the end of international supervision of Kosovo. He said Kosovo has made “significant progress” in “building the building the institutions of a modern, multi-ethnic, inclusive and democratic state.” He added Kosovo had more work to do in ensuring that the rights enshrined in the country’s constitution are realized for every citizen. President Obama also called on Kosovo to continue to work to resolve outstanding issues with its neighbors, especially Serbia.

Since U.S. recognition of Kosovo’s independence in February 2008, congressional action on Kosovo has focused largely on foreign aid appropriations legislation. Aid to Kosovo has declined significantly in recent years. In FY2011, Kosovo received a total of $85.428 million in U.S. aid. In FY2012, Kosovo will have received an estimated $67.45 million. For FY2013, the Administration requested a total of $57.669 million for Kosovo. Of this amount, $42.544 million is aid for political and economic reforms from the Economic Support Fund, $10.674 million from the International Narcotics Control and Law Enforcement account, $0.7 million in IMET military training aid, $3 million in Foreign Military Financing, and $0.75 million in NADR aid to assist non-proliferation and anti-terrorism efforts.

Date of Report: September 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 12
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