US envoy Grenell: Kosovo’s outgoing PM Kurti looked me in the eye and said that he would drop tariffs
US Presidential special envoy on
Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Richard Grenell, in an exclusive interview with the T7 show
Pressing reveals details of his communication with the outgoing Prime Minister
of Kosovo, Albin Kurti, saying that the latter promised to revoke tariffs on
Serbian goods. “He looked me in the eye and said that he would drop tariffs,”
Grenell said. He reiterated the US position that 100 percent tariffs which was
introduced before Albin Kurti was appointed prime minister is harming Kosovo’s
economy and its people and needs to be dropped.
Read full interview below:
Berat Buzhala: Mr.
Grenell, I would like to start this interview with you with the question that
preoccupies most of the people in Kosovo right now. Were you too harsh with Mr.
Kurti with regards to his position on tariffs?
Richard Grenell: We the United States have had a long-standing position that 100 percent tariffs that have been implemented before Mr. Kurti were harming the economy and the people of Kosovo the most. This is a long-standing policy, this is something that we communicated to every leader before the elections and after the elections, and to be honest, we had the commitment from everyone before the elections that they would commit to drop in the tariffs. Look, this is something that the United States firmly assess across the board, a bipartisan support, that the 100 percent tariffs are harming the economy of Kosovo, So, it does not make sense to us to have a policies that are harming economy, not allowing businesses to move in and create jobs, This affects young people who want jobs and policies are harming the economy itself. We the United States can’t be expected to keep supporting policies that are hurting the people and the job-creation activity. We are focused on helping on the economic side, and I think that there is too much attention focused on the political issues. The Trump Administration, trying to help the dialogue process, we decided a long time ago that the solution in our minds was going to be creating economic incentives, leaving the politics to the politicians and helping the economy. Trump’s economy has been on fire, has been amazing and what President Trump asked me to do is to try and help create economic incentives, pro-business atmosphere so that young people could get jobs. We have seen evidence over and over that businesses, whether be it American businesses or European businesses, were hesitant to come into Kosovo because some of the policies, and because of the perceived problems that were creating blocks basically. Businesses were not willing to come in where there is a perceived crisis.
Berat Buzhala: You
said that you had a commitment that everyone before and after the elections
that they would drop the tariffs. Did Mr. Kurti commit on this.
Richard Grenell: One
hundred percent yes. He looked me in the eye and said that he would drop
Berat Buzhala: Why
you think he lied to you?
Richard Grenell: Well,
look I not going to get involved in politics on what a situation is there, how
political leaders respond before and after commitments, but the reality is that
we are staying out of politics, we will
work with any government that wants to create an atmosphere, where you drop the
tariffs and you help create jobs for young people, for citizens that are there.
Businesses want to come to that region. It is one of the reasons why, when the
Trump Administration got involved and President Trump asked me to be the
special envoy, the first thing I did when I arrived in Pristina, the first
thing I did when I arrived in Belgrade, was to meet with the private sector
community. Not the politicians. I went to the chambers; I went to the
businesses and I heard across the board ‘we can’t have normal commerce’ because
of these political problems. So, this is why I concentrated as the first thing
to get a flight that would include cargo and passengers, not enough of the
media were focusing on the cargo aspect of this historic flight between
Pristina and Belgrade. This was going to create a way for businesses to move
goods across the region very quickly. We have car rental companies who when you
rent a car in the region, because of the border problems, people cannot cross
the border easily, they cannot go in a rental-car when they thought they can
go, this is making businesses suffer. And second that we decided to do was the
rail and motorway agreements. These are issues that community business wanted
and let me just confront one issue on the railway, because there was an
agreement between the leaders in Serbia and leaders in Kosovo on the railway
and then later one after it was signed there was questions of the route it was
going to take. We have been very clear on this route that we did not have a
preference we needed both parties to agree. You can’t have one side wanting one
route and the other side wanting a different route. There is a limited fund of
the from the Europeans, or Americans that are going to help in financing of
these projects. You cannot pick routes that are not feasible for both sides or
that are too costly. And so, we did not pick the route, the two parties picked
the route. And this is, I feel very strongly not imposing on the two parties’
American solutions. We are trying to be there make sure that we do not waste
our money and that want the American people help to finance projects or do
certain things that money is not wasted. And so, when the two parties come
together and figure out that this is the most feasible route with the limited
funds, because the proposed route before was through parts of Serbia that the
Serbian Government did not support, that were too expensive to make, and the
funds were not just there in terms on how to get through mountainous areas.
Berat Buzhala: Last
night Mr. Grenell jointly with the Matthew Palmer and Ambassador Philip Kosnett
issued a statement. It was much needed clarification, as throughout last week
and especially during parliamentary debate Mr. Kurti and his ministers kept
saying that there is a secret deal, and if the reciprocity measures with Serbia
are suspended Kosovo is going to lose part of its territory. This issue now
appeared settled. But for our audience not to leave any shred of doubt, neither
you nor other members of US Government have discussed ever with President Thaci
or Vucic the land-swap?
Never. It is never been brought up at my presence. As I said, this is not
something that I have seen, or has been talked about. And by the way, let me be
very clear: I said this a while ago, we said this on Twitter I believe, but we
have issued statements certainly to the media when they asked. This is not the
first time that we have been cleared this rumour, is just there is a rumour. We
have been saying this for a while, but some chose to not believe it. And that
is not going be on us. We can just keep stating what we know to be the facts,
and the fact is that I have never seen it and it has never been discussed and
is just an option.
Berat Buzhala: Do
you believe that land-swap is a good option to solve problems with Serbia?
Richard Grenell: I
personally don’t. I don’t see that as an option. But I want to be very clear
that all these are political issues, we the United States are really
concentrating on the economic issues. Our belief is that we can create a
different atmosphere, where European and American businesses are coming into
the region because the perceived conflict is over, and that we can move
businesses into seeing this region as part of their expansion. We create jobs,
we create jobs for young people, so the people are moving out of Kosovo or
Serbia that they remain there, and the region becomes vibrant. We believe that
this is the solution to the political problems, that economic development, job
creation, creates hope, creates incentives, and the political issues would become
less. You know I must be clear, is that many of the problems are
economic-related. And that’s where the energy should be pushed, that’s where we
should really all stop fighting and start trying to create jobs in the region,
so that’s where we have been focused on.
Berat Buzhala: No it
seems that after PM Kurti’s Government lost no-confidence motion, the tariffs
on Serbian goods cannot be lifted yet, for a certain period of time, and many
people were shocked when the US Development Aid was suspended and the US troops
withdrawal was mentioned for the first time. How close were we to lose US
support in a fundamental way, Mr Grenell?
Richard Grenell: The
American people love the people of Kosovo, we are committed to the people of
Kosovo, but when we have policies, we the United States the people of the
United States, get to have rules about our assistance. We do not want to be in
a position where our assistance is guaranteed no matter what happens on the
other side. We fundamentally believe that the tariffs were harming the people
of Kosovo and so we have decided to have a US policy that is very strong and
said we believe that the tariffs should be unequivocally and immediately
dropped because that are harming the people of Kosovo, it is not helping
economic development which is their goal, and so we were going to make sure
that we all supported, all governmental agencies of the US were going to
support that policy. But the fact is that we love the people of Kosovo and we
want the tariffs to be dropped so that we can have our bilateral cooperation
and work continue.
Berat Buzhala: Was
it possible for the US Government to keep working with the former Government?
Richard Grenell: The
US Government is going to work with any Government of Kosovo that wants to
create jobs and move forward. We stand with the people of Kosovo; we are
committed, and we are there. But again, I go back to the US policy gets to be
developed by the United States Government and the United States people. And so,
when we believe that tariffs, the 100 percent tariffs that are put on by the
Government of Kosovo, when we believe that this is harming your economy, you
then can’t expect us to keep funding projects that we believe are not going to
be effective simply because the tariffs are strangulating the economy. We don’t
want to waste our money.
Berat Buzhala: Last
two questions. After over a year of inactivity regarding the dialogue between
Kosovo and Serbia, few European countries seemed to be animated by your own
active agenda and the deals you have facilitated in Munich and berlin on
transport. Are you in contact with the European capitals regarding the issue of
Richard Grenell: Yes,
some who are supportive. And I think that there is a little bit of overplayed
because some European individuals and governments and leaders who are very
supportive of having this dialogue move forward. I saw incredible support for
the historic airline agreement, which we’ve got to finish, and we are focused
on finishing that so that it can be implemented. We go great support for the
railway and highway agreements. There is no question though that always going
to be those few who are going to sit on the sidelines and complain. What we
want to do is we want to move forward. I have raised, for instance the visa
liberalisation policy directly with the Chancellor Merkel. I have said that
this is a policy that needs to be adjusted and that the German Government can
definitely help. I raised that last year, I think in November or December,
directly with Chancellor Merkel. And she told me directly that there were ways
that it could work to adjust that and to help. So maybe on work visas or
specifically industry visas and when I raised those points specifically, she
said yes there are things that we can do. She instructed her team to do that. I
have raised that issue multiple times, I haven’t seen it implemented yet, but
we believe that there are things that the Europeans can do, have committed to
do, and should do, but haven’t done yet.
Berat Buzhala: Since
’92 at least and beyond, Kosovars did believe in the United States and in White
House. Should they keep believing on US and White House?
Richard Grenell: Look,
I think that you should believe in the Europeans, you should believe in the
Americans we are all together on this. We want to move forward. I firmly
believe that there are plenty of people in European and the United States who
are join together wanting to make progress and not looking who gets credit or
who does what. There is enough to do and we can all help the region.
Berat Buzhala: Last
question. What do you expect from new Prime Minister?
Richard Grenell: Look,
we are not going get involved in politics. The people of Kosovo got to choose
their Government, got to choose their leader, but the United States get to
choose its policies. And our policy is very firm, no matter who is in charge.
Tariffs must be dropped, because we believe that 100 percent tariffs that Kosovo
has, we believe it’s harming your own economy, and we are trying to help
Kosovo, Serbia, the entire region in terms of having zone having a region that
is about job creation and hope for young people that they can stay in the
region and have quality jobs, and have their families glow and prosper. And so,
we get to have our own policy and our own policy is very clear: That the
tariffs should be dropped and then we can partner and be very creative and
Berat Buzhala: The
very last one. Many who oppose you, have used your sexual orientation, Mr.
Grenell – You are openly a gay man – as an argument to undermine your authority
and ability to lead this important process. How do you comment on this?
Richard Grenell: I have seen that online and certainly received a lot of messages from people who are trying to use anti-gay or homophobic slurs. I don’t believe that is a majority of the people in Kosovo or in the region. It certainly should be condemned. I am very proud to be gay is the way I was born and so I don’t back away from that, and I think that any anti-gay or homophobic slurs should be widely condemned. /GazetaExpress/