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In the Balkans, tensions escalate between Serbia and Kosovo

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

NATO's secretary general says more peacekeepers will be moved to Kosovo if tensions with neighboring Serbia continue to escalate. That announcement came ahead of a rare face-to-face meeting between Kosovo's Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic today. Ilva Tare is a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center and a former broadcaster in her native Albania. And she joins us now. Ilva, welcome.

ILVA TARE: Good morning, Leila. I'm delighted to talk to you.

FADEL: Thank you for being here. Now, the catalyst for this flare-up, this latest flare-up, was license plates. Kosovo's president gave ethnic Serbians in border areas an ultimatum, demanding they turn in their Serb license plates for Kosovo ones, yes? But tensions have been high for some time, right? Can you walk us through where that is?

TARE: Well, as you rightly said, Leila, President - Serbian President Vucic and the Kosovo prime minister, Albin Kurti, were summoned to Brussels to an emergency summit after violence nearly broke out along Kosovo borders 19 days ago. The violence and the incident started after Kurti moved to put in place reciprocal measures, as Kosovo calls it, requiring Serbs living in Kosovo to carry Kosovo IDs and have Kosovo license plates on their cars. This is the practice that has been doing - that has been happening for Kosovo people for the last 15 years. So the tense situation led Mr. Kurti, under pressure from Western embassies, namely EU and U.S., to agree to postpone implementing the measures until September 1. So now they are in Brussels to try to work out a compromise so that things stay calm next month and even further. It is a very important meeting. I saw that, apart from the special representative, Lajcak, Deputy Assistant Secretary Escobar, who oversees Western Balkans, was present there, which shows the importance of the meeting and also the togetherness of the U.S. and EU in addressing such tension, situation in the Balkans.

FADEL: What do you expect to come out of this meeting?

TARE: My sources tell me that both sides are going into the meeting quite hostile. Differences are huge. We have to be hopeful. But most likely, there may be - difficult to have progress or an outcome. But still, this is important because, you know, it's not only about peace and stability at a time of crisis in Europe...

FADEL: Right. Yeah.

TARE: ...Which hangs in the balance. But is also, Europe's own credibility as a peacemaker is on the line. And also, considering the destabilizing influence that Russia has in the region, this is an important message to send to Russia and to its ally in the region - Serbia, namely. I just want to bring here what American ambassador Chris Hill has said lately about the position of Serbia. Despite Russia's influence on Serbia's energy sector and despite its pervasive disinformation efforts, Serbs have decided their future, and that is Europe and the West. So probably now the EU should do best to pressure and to make sure that Serbia is on the EU side, and the whole region has more faster progression towards EU integration.

FADEL: That's Ilva Tare, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council's Europe Center. Thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF TOR'S "LUX") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.