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Kosovo gauges Canada’s support for NATO membership

By Ally Foster      

Five years after independence, Kosovo’s foreign minister is in Ottawa talking investment, and whether his government plans to open an embassy in Canada.

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Kosovo’s foreign minister is in Ottawa this week to thank Canada for supporting its independence, and to gauge Canada’s interest in backing its possible bid to join NATO.

In what was the first official visit from a Kosovar foreign minister to Canada, Enver Hoxhaj met with his counterpart, John Baird, as well as Lynne Yelich, the new minister of state for foreign affairs and consular services.

During his three days in Ottawa, Mr. Hoxhaj also spoke to Embassy about the role Canada can play in Kosovo’s continued development, including through beefed up investment.

Having declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, Kosovo is now recognized by 101 of 193 United Nations members, said Mr. Hoxhaj.

Canada officially recognized it in March 2008.

Mr. Hoxhaj said on July 23 that he planned to meet his counterpart the next day and update him on the Balkans region, given that Kosovo and Serbia signed an agreement in April to normalize relations.

Serbia has long considered Kosovo’s declaration of independence unilateral, and argued that it violates several international laws. Serbia still refuses to recognize Kosovo as a sovereign country.

Mr. Hoxhaj said that during his trip he and his government are “very much interested to see the possibility of support from Canada on the future of Kosovo’s NATO membership.”

Kosovo’s prime minister has submitted requests for it to join NATO co-operation programs like the Partnership for Peace and the US-Adriatic Charter, according to the Southeast European Times, a news website sponsored by the United States military. It’s also seeking for members of the Kosovo Security Force to participate in NATO or European Union-led operations.

Kosovo’s security sector is undergoing change, said Mr. Hoxhaj. In the next few months the security force will look to revise its mandate and, by next year, have a “new name and substance,” he said.

He added: “we need the support of Canada in terms of starting to get membership in some regional institutes who are part of NATO, like Partnership for Peace.”

That program would establish practical co-operation between Kosovo and NATO.

Mr. Baird’s press secretary, Rick Roth, wrote in an email after the minister’s meeting with Mr. Hoxhaj that although Kosovo isn’t formally a NATO-aspiring country, “Canada is supportive of the Euro-Atlantic integration of the Balkan states, including Kosovo, and Minister Baird underlined this support.”

Investment wanted

But security-sector assistance isn’t the only way Canada can help Kosovo “[build] a new country from scratch,” said Mr. Hoxhaj.

He said he would like to see more Canadian investment in sectors such as energy, mining, education, and information technology.

He said he and Mr. Baird would be discussing the possibility of signing several deals on matters such as the avoidance of double taxation, and a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement.

Mr. Roth said that the two ministers talked about ways to improve trade relations between Canada and Kosovo, but would not confirm the status of economic agreements in the works.

Although Canada has been involved in peace, stability, and security as well as development in the region since the early 1990s, Mr. Hoxhaj said, “frankly speaking, I would like still to see more engagement from Canada in Kosovo…[but] maybe not in the same way it was.”

The Canadian International Development Agency, now part of the newly merged Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development, ended its bilateral programming to the Balkans in December 2009 after investing more than $540 million over about two decades.

About $135 million of that money has gone to Kosovo. Mr. Hoxhaj said that level of humanitarian and development assistance may no longer be necessary, but that Canada could become more engaged in terms of closer co-operation between the two governments, as well as more Canadian investment.

Embassy in Canada ‘a matter of time’

Bilateral relations are heating up, as the first ambassador from Kosovo presented his credentials in Canada in December 2012.

Akan Ismaili, based out of Washington, is also Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States.

Mr. Hoxhaj said his government is hopeful that a separate mission will eventually be set up in Canada.

“It’s a matter of time when this is going to happen,” he said. “But, as all governments around the world, we have budget constraints and we are very careful how to do this.”

Kosovo currently has 22 embassies open around the world, he said.

afoster@embassynews.ca

@allyfoster1

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