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Trump flanked by Vucic (L) and Hoti (R). Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

A White House summit between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo ended with a twist on Friday: Both countries announced diplomatic breakthroughs not with one another, but with Israel.

Driving the news: Serbia has agreed to move its embassy to Jerusalem "by July," President Trump announced, while Kosovo and Israel will grant one another diplomatic recognition.

Behind the scenes: To finalize that agreement, Trump called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his meeting on Friday with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, Netanyahu's office said in a statement.

  • The Israeli statement said that Kosovo would establish an embassy in Jerusalem, making it the first Muslim-majority country to do so.
  • Israel had never recognized Kosovo — which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 — in part because it did not want to legitimize the recognition of Palestine. It's unclear why Netanyahu's position has shifted.
  • Serbia — which has waged a campaign to pressure countries not to recognize Kosovo — clarified that it did not approve of Israeli recognition of Kosovo, one of several indications that much remained unresolved following the summit.

Between the lines: This unorthodox outcome of a summit between Balkan nations underlines the administration's push to help Israel build deeper diplomatic links around the world, and its desire to score wins where it can before November's election.

The other side: Serbia ruled out what would have been a landmark achievement — mutual recognition with Kosovo — ahead of the summit, and reiterated on Friday that such an agreement was out of the question.

  • The countries did sign what Trump called an "economic normalization" agreement in the Oval Office.
  • But Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic told Serbian media that he had signed a bilateral deal with the U.S., not with Kosovo.
  • Richard Grenell, Trump's envoy for Serbia and Kosovo, later clarified that Serbia and Kosovo had signed separate documents that were nearly identical, while Trump had signed a third document signaling his approval for the initiative.
  • Grenell traded barbs with reporters, whom he accused of failing to recognize the significance of the economic agreements.
  • National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien added that Serbia and Kosovo would freeze their de-recognition campaigns for a year, to provide "breathing room" for negotiations on that issue.

Background: Along with Grenell, O'Brien and Senior White House adviser Jared Kushner have been involved in the Serbia-Kosovo process, U.S. officials say.

  • The three met with Vucic in Washington in March on the sidelines of the AIPAC conference and raised at the time the issue of moving the Serbian Embassy to Jerusalem.
  • In his AIPAC speech, Vucic stopped short of announcing that step but said Serbia would open a commercial office in the city.

What to watch: The EU has long overseen negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, and the White House initiative has moved in parallel with that process.

  • Vucic and Hoti are scheduled to travel to Brussels on Monday for additional talks, per AP.

Worth noting: This White House summit was previously slated for June, but was delayed after Kosovo's president, Hashim Thaci, was charged with war crimes.

Go deeper

Nov 8, 2020 - World

Netanyahu joins other leaders in congratulating Biden for beating Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Trump in the East Room of the White House in January. Photo: Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images

More than 12 hours after the U.S. television networks called the presidential race for Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted his congratulations to the president-elect.

Why it matters: Israel is one of the main allies of the U.S., but Netanyahu’s congratulatory tweet came long after most leaders around the world had already congratulated Biden.

Collins helps contractor before pro-Susan PAC gets donation

Sen. Susan Collins during her reelection campaign. Photo: Scott Eisen/Getty Images

A PAC backing Sen. Susan Collins in her high-stakes reelection campaign received $150,000 from an entity linked to the wife of a defense contractor whose firm Collins helped land a federal contract, new public records show.

Why it matters: The executive, Martin Kao of Honolulu, leaned heavily on his political connections to boost his business, federal prosecutors say in an ongoing criminal case against him. The donation linked to Kao was veiled until last week.

How cutting GOP corporate cash could backfire

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Companies pulling back on political donations, particularly to members of Congress who voted against certifying President Biden's election win, could inadvertently push Republicans to embrace their party's rightward fringe.

Why it matters: Scores of corporate PACs have paused, scaled back or entirely abandoned their political giving programs. While designed to distance those companies from events that coincided with this month's deadly siege on the U.S. Capitol, research suggests the moves could actually empower the far-right.