WASHINGTON: The United States has postponed a White House summit due on Saturday between Serbia and Kosovo on easing tensions after Kosovo’s president was indicted on war crimes.

President Hashim Thaci scrapped his trip to Washington after prosecutors in The Hague announced a slew of charges related to the veteran leader’s role in Kosovo’s 1998-99 war with Serbia.

Kosovo’s new prime minister, Avdullah Hoti, had been due to fill in but said Thursday that he needed to stay in Pristina in light of the situation.

“Thank you, Prime Minister Hoti. We understand your decision and we look forward to rescheduling the meeting soon,” Richard Grenell, the US envoy leading diplomacy between Serbia and Kosovo, wrote on Twitter.

No new date was set for the White House summit, with barely four months to go before US elections.

Some analysts said that President Donald Trump was hoping for a late-term foreign policy victory through the summit, although Trump himself was not set to participate and is spending the weekend at his New Jersey golf resort.

Grenell, an outspoken former ambassador to Germany and US intelligence chief, had earlier said that the talks were aimed at normalising economic relations between Serbia and Kosovo rather than bringing a broad political settlement. Belgrade refuses to recognise Kosovo’s independence, which it declared from Serbia in 2008 and in practical terms has maintained since the 1990s after Nato intervened in a war that claimed 13,000 lives.

But Serbia’s historic ally Russia as well as China — along with several nations within the European Union — reject the independence of Kosovo, which is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian.

Grenell has denied speculation that he was trying to negotiate land swaps between Serbia and Kosovo, which maintains a Serb minority.

Until the White House initiative, the European Union had been in the forefront of diplomacy between Serbia and Kosovo but talks had broken off more than a year ago.

Hoti, who took office in May, has sought to ease tensions by ending a ban on Serbian imports.The president of Kosovo headed back to his country on Friday after pulling out of a White House meeting due to his indictment for war crimes stemming from the 1990s armed conflict between ethnic Albanian separatists he helped lead and Serbian forces.

President Hashim Thaci, who had already left for Washington and was in Austria when the charges against him were announced, landed at Tirana International Airport in Albania and was said to be on his way to Kosovo by car. The airport in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina remains closed due to the coronavirus.

Thaci said he would address the people of Kosovo from his office on Sunday evening.

Wish you a calm weekend and remain hopeful that better days for Kosovo and the Albanian people are ahead, he posted on Facebook.

A special prosecutor who has been investigating alleged war crimes by the Kosovo Liberation Army during and after the 1998-99 conflict on Wednesday announced the indictment of Thaci and nine other former rebel fighters on murder and other charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against ethnic Serbs, Roma and others.

A pretrial judge at the Kosovo Specialist Chambers in The Hague is studying the indictment and could still reject it if there is not enough evidence to back it up.

Published in Dawn, June 27th, 2020