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The (Sub) Prime of Lady Catherine Ashton

7:24 AM, Dec 13, 2013 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
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On November 26, the Financial Times published an extravagant encomium to Lady Catherine Ashton by its Brussels bureau chief Peter Spiegel, under the headline “EU foreign policy chief Lady Ashton comes of age in Iran talks.” Spiegel reported, “her team returned from negotiations in Geneva to a standing ovation . . . from EU ambassadors for their part in clinching a historic deal to limit Iran’s nuclear ambitions.”

EU High Representative for Foreign Policy and Security Ashton, to give her full title, had indeed been a star of the Geneva smile-a-thon with the Iranians. Spiegel wrote further, “It is not merely a one-off success, but the high point in a six-month stretch that began with the unexpected deal she brokered between Kosovo and Serbia in April, paving the way for two former foes to normalise relations.” The so-called “Kosovo agreement with Serbia,” crafted in Brussels, was much less expansive than indicated by Spiegel, and attracted little American attention. It was hardly greeted with such enthusiasm by the parties involved, least of all on the Kosovar Albanian side.

As recorded on April 20 by the United Nations Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) media monitoring service, when the promised pact between the two Balkan countries was announced by Ashton, she enthused, “I want to congratulate [Kosovar prime minister Hashim Thaci and his Serbian counterpart Ivica Dacic] for their determination over these months and for the courage that they have. It is very important that now what we are seeing is a step away from the past and, for both of them, a step closer to Europe.”

Early bulletins on the supposed diplomatic breakthrough claimed that Serbian parallel police and “de facto” courts in the violently-intransigent, Serbian-occupied northernmost corner of Kosovo would be integrated into a unified Kosovo legal system under the control of its Albanian-majority government. But Serbia had removed from the agreement a phrase that would have ended its policy of blocking membership for Kosovo in the United Nations and other international organizations.

Albanians count 92 percent of Kosovo’s population, with Serbs included alongside other minorities in the remaining 8 percent by the CIA World Factbook. Thus, each state supposedly got something and surrendered nothing. Koha Ditore (Daily Times), the newspaper of record in Pristina, the Kosovar capital, pointed out immediately that the prime ministers of each, Thaci and Dacic, “came out with differing interpretations of what they had agreed to in Brussels.”

Thaci, representing the governing Democratic Party of Kosovo or PDK, based in the leadership of the former Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), was seemingly focused only on continued approval by the EU. He offered low-key remarks redolent of Brussels-speak: “We managed to narrow down our differences and move towards a reconciliation, understanding, and . . . an agreement.” Thaci said he knew people both in Kosovo and Serbia would oppose the “deal” but said it was the best possible solution for the two states as well as the region.

Serbian prime minister Dacic appeared to have the better of the bargain. “Normalization” of Belgrade’s relations with an independent Kosovo would mean accepting, presumably, the fact of the latter’s separation from Serbia. In 2008, Kosovar sovereignty was declared, and was recognized by President George W. Bush, but has been rejected by Serbia and Serbs in Kosovo ever since. Dacic spurned effective recognition of Kosovo Republic authority when he commented on the April 2013 agreement. He also was concerned obviously to placate Brussels, in the hope of an accelerated Serbian accession to the EU, a process scheduled to begin formally in January. Slovenia and Croatia are the only ex-Yugoslav states with EU membership.

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