Thank you, Mr. President, and thank you, Special Representative Zarif, for your briefing. I would like to welcome Prime Minister Dacic and Prime Minister Thaci back to the Council and thank them for their comments. I commend the Prime Ministers for your continued dedication to the dialogue process over these last few months.
Madame President, the United States congratulates Kosovo on the successful second round elections held on December 1, as well as the repeat votes in Partesh, Zvecan and Mitrovica North municipalities.
Their organization and relatively high voter turnout reflect Kosovo’s commitment to free and fair democratic elections and desire among the people to make their voices heard. We commend the coordination between the Kosovo Police, KFOR, and EULEX to ensure citizens throughout Kosovo could vote in a secure environment. The memorandum of understanding between police and prosecutors to address reports of intimidation and fraud on election day also contributed to the success of elections. We congratulate all the mayors and municipal assembly members officially inaugurated in December and January, including Kosovo’s first female mayor, and commend their readiness to serve their communities, in accordance with Kosovo law and within Kosovo’s institutional framework. We call upon local leaders throughout Kosovo to support dialogue, cooperation, and integration within their communities.
Madame President, the United States fully supports the EU-facilitated Kosovo-Serbia Dialogue and the landmark April 2013 agreement to normalize relations. The Prime Ministers and EU High Representative Ashton deserve our praise and continued support for their efforts and leadership. Sustaining the Dialogue’s successes remains crucial for long-term stability, reconciliation, and development in the region, and is in the interests of all citizens. Normalization between Serbia and Kosovo will bring opportunities for communities in both countries, including jobs and economic growth. The ongoing integration of police, the resumption of customs controls at the northern gates, and the establishment of the development fund for the north are just a few notable aspects of the hope, order and normalcy achievable through the Dialogue.
We welcome the acknowledgment by both prime ministers that there remains much more to be done to implement all that has been agreed. With this in mind, we believe we should reduce the number of reports to and meetings of the Council and allow Kosovo and Serbia time to concentrate on the full implementation of the Dialogue, to include integrating the judiciary in the north and staff from the Civil Protection Corps into the Kosovo framework and removing remaining impediments to the free and lawful movement of goods and people.
The United States appreciates the government of Kosovo’s outreach to Kosovo-Serbs, especially efforts to work with newly-elected municipal authorities to ease integration, ensure functional, decentralized institutions, and promote inclusiveness, in the spirit of the April agreement. We encourage Kosovo authorities to continue expanding these outreach efforts, particularly in northern Kosovo, so that ordinary citizens hear and see positive examples of the government of Kosovo’s commitment to all of its citizens, regardless of ethnicity. Prime Minister Thaci’s Christmas visit to Serbian returnee families in Klina and Vidanje illustrates a dedication to welcoming displaced families back to Kosovo. The government needs to sustain this whole-of-society effort. Attacks, burglaries, and harassment of Kosovo-Serb returnees must be addressed in the strongest terms, and perpetrators must face justice.
Preserving and protecting religious and cultural heritage sites is part of the effort, and we welcome the progress that has led to the adjustment of KFOR’s presence at Pec Patriarchate, the eighth of nine internationally protected sites to be transferred to Kosovo police protection. We continue to encourage the full implementation of the Law on Cultural Heritage and the establishment and enforcement of the special protected zone through the Law on the Village of Velika.
Finally, Madame President, we congratulate both Kosovo and Serbia on the achievement of their recent milestones on the path towards EU membership, with Kosovo beginning negotiations on a Stabilization and Association Agreement and Serbia beginning accession talks with the European Union. I must again underscore the appreciation of the United States for the growing number of countries that have recognized Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state. These recognitions are a reflection of the progress Kosovo has made on internal reforms as well as the new dynamic in Serbia and Kosovo relations.
It is this progress that bolsters stability in the Western Balkans. We encourage the countries which have not recognized Kosovo to reinforce these efforts by joining the more than 100 United Nations members in acknowledging the reality of an independent Kosovo.
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