Janjic: Hill is the most prominent member of Biden’s ‘powerful five’

Janjic: Hill is the most prominent member of Biden’s ‘powerful five’

The US administration seems to have been mobilized to return to the Balkans in an effort to put an end to all the issues that have remained open since the superpower turned its attention to Afghanistan, Iraq and, in the last decade, Syria.

The US President Joe Biden has formed a super group of five diplomats to deal with the Western Balkans at a time when the influence of Russia and China is beginning to take root. The European Union demonstrated laziness in preventing this impact as a result of the inability to create unity within the bloc, especially in terms of integration processes in relation to WB6.

Christofer Hill, a prominent American diplomat, has now returned to the Balkans. President Joe Biden has appointed him US Ambassador to Serbia, in a country whose public is well aware of his energy when it comes to peace objectives.

But how things are expected to develop in the future, and can Ambassador Hill be challenged in Serbia? KosovaPress spoke with Belgrade-based political analyst Dusan Janjic.

Interviewed by: Fadil MIFTARI

Full interview:

KosovaPress: Mr. Janjic, one of the most successful diplomats in the administration of former President Clinton, Mr. Christopher Hill has been appointed US Ambassador to Serbia. What does this mean, first and foremost, for Serbia’s relations with the United States.

Janjic: Christopher Hill is an extremely capable, proven, creative member of a powerful administration. But he is just one of the members of that administration. It seems to me that Hill is the most prominent member of Biden’s “powerful five” for the Western Balkans.

This five also includes Gabriel Escobar, Jeffrey Howiener, Mitchell Murphy and James O’Brien. Some will deal with the region as ambassadors, some as special envoys of the U.S. government. But they are all in the same task. The individual success of each of them depends on the success of their joint work. There is no doubt that Hill is open and ready for such a job.

All of the appointees were active in the region in the 1990s. This experience can only help them accomplish their duties in countries still struggling with the legacy of war. For example, just as Serbia has the “unfinished work” in reform and democratization, Hill has the “unfinished work” in establishing better cooperation between Serbia and the United States, including the NATO membership, the normalization of Serbia’s relations with Kosovo, the unblocking of the economic development process, and the building of democratic institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

KosovaPress: Do you see this appointment as a sign that a credible man of President Biden is being sent, which also means the possibility of increasing the attention of the American administration in the Balkans? 

Janjic: Given the appointment of Ambassador Hill and the “five”, the US and President Biden have very serious goals and show readiness to respond to the “Balkan test”. I remind you that before his appointment, Biden signed an executive order to tackle corruption as well as obstructions to peace agreements, democratic processes and human rights in the Western Balkans. 

In addition to this order, an important framework for Hill’s actions is the US Government Statement, which confirms the US support for the Western Balkan countries on the path to EU integration and EU membership – Euro-Atlantic institutions, (read NATO membership). In carrying out these tasks, Hill will have an extremely difficult job, because Serbia has stalled on reforms, especially since the policy of “military neutrality” is in fact non-accession to NATO.

It will not be easy for Hill to fulfill the tasks of supporting the regional partnership in the field of climate, reducing the importance of Russia’s influence through energy diversification. However, if he receives significant support through investment from companies, and the US government, Hill is likely to reduce Russian influence (for example, by financing the construction of a nuclear power plant in Serbia and financing water and green energy projects, as it was agreed in Washington between the Serb and Kosovar representatives. The same goes for the US government’s promise to help develop the region, and protect its strategic infrastructure and industry from “China’s malignant influence”.

KosovaPress: Do you expect another dynamic of developments in the Balkans, given that Ambassador Hill has a great experience in the region and served precisely in a dramatic period? 

Janjic: Daniel Serwer is right when he states that this appointment shows a serious intention of the US administration to resolve the remaining issues of war and peace in this part of Europe. But that is not a guarantee of success. Indeed, the region is facing a dramatic increase in the support of ethno-nationalist governments in the politics of violence (for now, the police). The supporters of “revising” peace agreements, demarcation policies and redrawing borders by ethnicity are more and more visible.

Ambassador Hill can only contribute to overcoming the temptations of new wars and strengthening hopes for lasting peace in this part of Europe.

KosovaPress: Is it expected that Ambassador Hill will bring new dynamics to the negotiations between Kosovo and Serbia, or will the same stance continue for Washington to support the European Union in its commitments to give an epilogue to the dialogue? 

Janjic: Hill is known to the local public for his “proposals” and active participation in organizing peace conferences in Rambouillet and Dayton. Therefore, I have no doubt that he is motivated to “finish the job” through dialogue. 

When it comes to the Brussels Dialogue, Hill, Howiener and Escobar are bound by President Biden’s letter to the President of Kosovo: “The United States will continue to support efforts to ensure lasting peace and productive dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia, and ultimately a comprehensive normalization agreement, which we believe should be centered on mutual recognition”. For Kosovo, the normalization of relations with Serbia is very important. In this way, Kosovo can “realize its potential and fully integrate into Euro-Atlantic institutions”. As for the interests of the United States, they “will be Kosovo’s partner at every step”.

There will be many obstacles to the fulfillment of this promise by Hill and Howiener, and especially Escobar. It is not realistic to expect them to fulfill all their tasks, but they will not remain in the current state of (non) realization of normalization. In order to reach a successful agreement on this challenge, one of the first steps could be a US agreement with the EU, Belgrade and Prishtina in a “new format”. The experience to date shows that it is necessary to move on to responsible and binding political talks, that would include hitherto undiscussed topics in two to three groups. The so-called technical dialogue, which confirmed its ineffectiveness, should have been an obligation for each party to exercise power with the support of the EU and the United States. At the very end of the process, at a joint conference of Serbia, Kosovo, the EU and the US, the text of the “Comprehensive Final Agreement for the Full Normalization of Relations between Kosovo and Serbia” would be approved.

In addition, it should be remembered that the US government forced its ambassadors to Belgrade and Prishtina to work to reach an agreement from Washington. This can only help progress in normalizing relations between Kosovo and Serbia, as well as their cooperation with the business community and US authorities.

KosovaPress: Due to the engagement of Ambassador Hill during the period 1998-99 here in Kosovo, his return to the region has been eagerly awaited. But how it was received in Serbia? 

Janjic: It is true that part of the Serbian public and authorities see Hill’s appointment as a “return to the crime scene”. This is understandable because through his service in Belgrade, Skopje and Sarajevo, and as a close associate of Richard Holbrooke, as a member of his team, and participant in the Dayton and Rambouillet negotiations, he is a credible witness to everything that has happened, of everything that has been signed and not respected. 

In the end, Hill is a witness to the end of wars, including NATO military intervention in 1999. For the wars that were stopped, many are engaged in the current government, business and public of Serbia. He is a witness to “their unfinished work”. He fears that this “work” will not be completed.

/Dusan Janjic is an objective political analyst with a long experience in developments in the Balkans. He is the director of the prestigious think tank “Forum for Ethnic Relations”, based in Belgrade/

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