NATO Commander Meets with Serb Leaders, Agrees to Kosovo Hotline

This story originated in VOA’s Serbian Service. Some information is from AP.

WASHINGTON —  NATO’s supreme commander met with Serbian political and military leaders in Belgrade on Wednesday in his first visit to Serbia since assuming the alliance’s top military post.

U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, who in May was sworn in as supreme allied commander in Europe, a post always held by a U.S. military officer, was first hosted by General Milan Mojsilovic, head of the Serbian Armed Forces, before meeting jointly with President Aleksandar Vucic and Defense Minister Aleksandr Vulin.

“We spoke about a wide range of topics and I am glad to say that through hard work and dedication, Serbia is promoting peace and stability in the Western Balkans,” Wolters told VOA’s Serbian Service in a prepared statement.

Wolters did not immediately respond to questions about whether or not he planned to visit Kosovo on this trip to the region.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo as a country, but the EU has set normalized relations between the two countries as a condition for Serbia to advance to EU membership.

Talks mediated by EU officials have been stalled for months.

President Vucic issued a statement after meeting with Wolters, in which he called NATO-led international peacekeepers on the ground in Kosovo a guarantor of security for Serbs living in Kosovo.

Vucic also said Wolters agreed to set up an emergency communications hotline between Serbian forces and the NATO-led international peacekeeping force in Kosovo (KFOR) to rapidly defuse tensions or episodes of violence.

“Good communication between the Serbian Armed Forces and the KFOR is important so that any crisis situation in Kosovo and Metohija could be immediately prevented,” Vucic said. “This is a security guarantee for the Serbian people in Kosovo.”

Wolters, in response, expressed his support for Serbia’s efforts to maintain stability and develop cooperation in the region.

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic shake hands during an event at Veliki Kalemegdan Park in Belgrade, Serbia, July 15, 2019.

French President Emmanuel Macron met with Vucic in Belgrade on Monday, when he vowed to help jumpstart stalled negotiations to resolve Serbia’s independence dispute with former province Kosovo so a lasting solution can be found for the decades-long Balkan crisis.

Macron, making the first visit to Serbia by a French president since 2001, also expressed support for the country’s stated goal of joining the European Union even as he reiterated his belief that the EU must adopt reforms before adding more members.

Historically close ties between Belgrade and Paris were severely damaged when NATO forces bombed Serbia in 1999 over the country’s actions in Kosovo, and by France’s recognition of Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence.

Serbia has officially been on the path to becoming an EU member since 2008. The country also maintains close ties with Russia and China, whose mounting influence in the Balkans has raised Western concerns.

“I urged France to help us on our European road and in solving the Kosovo crisis,” Vucic said of his meeting with the French president.