US, EU push for agreement at Serbia-Kosovo talks | News | DW | 02.04.2013
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US, EU push for agreement at Serbia-Kosovo talks

There were mixed signals from Belgrade ahead of a meeting between Serbian officials and their counterparts from Kosovo. These were to be the latest round in a series of meetings between Belgrade and Pristina.

The talks, being held in Brussels this Tuesday, are aimed at normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence from Belgrade five years ago.

In the days leading up to the meeting, both the European Union (EU) and the United States called for the two sides to agree on a deal that would serve the interests of their respective citizens.

"I think an agreement should be possible, even if it won't be easy," the EU's foreign policy coordinator said in a statement on Monday. She also called on the two sides to enter the talks "with the aim of finding a solution that best fits the interests of the people concerned and contributes to a better future," Catherine Ashton said.

US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland struck a similar tone.

"We hope that the round tomorrow will be a successful one because we think it's important both for Kosovo and for Serbia to normalize their relations and move on from the legacy of the past and move forward both in democratic terms, in economic terms and on their path for European integration," Nuland said.

However, Serbia's president Tomislav Nikolic appeared less than optimistic ahead of Tuesday's talks.

"Intractable statements from Pristina put us before a fait accompli and are not encouraging," he told reporters in Belgrade on Monday.

"Telling us to accept everything written in the Kosovo constitution and laws (is) maybe a wish to see us not come (to Brussels) as we cannot accept" such requests, the president said.

At the same time though, some Belgrade media have reported that the fact that Serbia's deputy prime minister, Aleksandar Vucic is to take part in Tuesday's talks could be a signal that an agreement may be within reach. Vucic replaced Nikolic as leader of the Serbian Progressive Party (SNS) after the latter won last year's presidential election. Until now, the SNS, which is the largest in the Serbian parliament, had mainly left negotiations up to Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, who is the leader of the Socialist Party of Serbia.

A major sticking point was expected to be the status of Serbs who form the majority in the north of Kosovo, which as a whole is dominated by ethnic Albanians.

On Monday, Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci urged Belgrade to agree to a deal that would give Serbs more rights in the north without granting them the autonomy that many of them have been seeking.

"I hope that Belgrade will reflect upon and accept this agreement and then work together with the international community to normalize relations," Thaci said.

Serbian politicians have repeatedly said they would never recognize Kosovo, which unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. Kosovo has been recognized by most European Union countries as well as the United States.

pfd/hc ( AP, AFP, dpa)