Thank you, Madame President and thank you, Special Representative Zarif, for your briefing. Let me also take a moment to welcome the new Chinese Permanent Representative, Ambassador Liu. Welcome. And we also welcome, of course, Foreign Minister Hoxhaj and Foreign Minister Mrkic back to the Council, and thank you both very much for your briefings. I commend both governments, and in particular Prime Minister Thaci and Prime Minister Dacic, for their leadership, which has led to agreement on principles for normalizing relations and which advanced their countries' respective paths toward European integration. Today, I'd like to make three points regarding the opportunities presented by the EU-facilitated Dialogue process, upcoming elections, and progress on issues important to advancing normalization and understanding.
First, the United States congratulates Serbia and Kosovo on the important steps taken toward implementation of the April 19 agreement to normalize relations. Our EU partners recognized the significant steps by both governments, and we welcome the EU Council decisions on June 28 to open accession negotiations with Serbia and open negotiations with Kosovo on a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The dialogue has created opportunities to enhance stability in the region, both for the security and economic prosperity of the people of Kosovo and Serbia. The Prime Ministers and EU High Representative Ashton deserve our strong praise and continued support for their efforts. We commend the Government of Serbia's work toward integration of police into a unitary framework and chain of command by closing parallel stations in northern Kosovo. Equally important, Kosovo has taken steps to amend its laws so implementation can move forward. That both governments have posted iaison officers in each other's capitals will also help improve relations and further dialogue. We also thank EULEX and NATO for their continuing support for implementing the dialogue agreements. As both Foreign Ministers have acknowledged, much remains to be done to fulfill the commitments they have made. We hope to see soon the finalization of agreements on energy and telecom, progress in the working groups in Brussels to consolidate legitimate and effective judicial and police structures in the north, and full implementation of all previous Dialogue agreements, including customs and integrated border management.
Second, we look forward to the November 3 municipal elections in Kosovo and appreciate the integral role the OSCE is playing to help to facilitate what should be free, fair, and transparent elections. The United States urges eligible voters throughout Kosovo to exercise their right to participate in the democratic process. We especially urge minority communities, including Kosovo Serbs, to participate and to make their voices heard. By voting, they have the opportunity to not only choose their leaders, but also to hold them accountable and ensure effective and responsive local governance.
Third, I want to highlight opportunities to overcome the violence of the past and promote reconciliation between communities in Kosovo. The United States welcomes Kosovo's efforts on protection of religious and cultural heritage, including the establishment of a new multi-ethnic unit within the Kosovo Police to protect sites throughout the country, as agreed in the Dialogue. The unit is in the process now of working with KFOR to assume primary responsibility for protection of the Pec Patriarchate. The United States encourages the Government of Kosovo to continue to work with its international partners, including NATO, OSCE, the EU and UNESCO, to ensure that holy sites of all religions are restored and protected. As noted again in the Secretary General's report, missing persons are an important and unresolved issue that demands critical attention from all parties. We reiterate the call on all concerned, particularly the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia, to intensify collaborative efforts to locate missing persons so families can finally obtain answers and, hopefully, some personal resolution. Ensuring safe, stable and sustainable conditions for returnees is another critical aspect to moving forward that requires further attention and much work.
Let me conclude by encouraging the governments to maintain the momentum of the past few months. We want Kosovo and Serbia to succeed and to thrive, so it is up to you, and the people in Kosovo and Serbia, to seize the opportunities created by the dialogue and your European Union
negotiations to build the foundations for a secure and prosperous future. We stand ready to assist in any way.
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