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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.

Updated 1 hour ago - Energy & Environment

Thousands without power as "hazardous" winter storm lashes East Coast

Satellite imagery of the Northeastern U.S. taken by NOAA on Jan. 17. Photo: NOAA

A major winter storm lashed much of the East Coast Sunday and Monday, causing widespread power outages and disrupting travel over the holiday weekend.

The latest: Authorities in North Carolina confirmed that two people died in a car crash and that they responded 600 vehicle accidents during the storm on Sunday, per the Washington Post.

2 hours ago - Health

CDC director says COVID-19 messaging should have been clearer

Rochelle Walensky. Photo: Stefani Reynolds-Pool/Getty Images

Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an interview with the Wall Street Journal that the messaging around the COVID-19 pandemic and changing guidance should have been clearer.

State of play: Walensky is being coached by media experts and is planning to have more press briefings by herself in order to ensure that CDC is seen as an independent, scientific entity, rather than as a political one, the Journal reports.