European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. Photo by Y...

EU envoy in Serbia-Kosovo talks optimistic of progress

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The European Union envoy in talks on normalizing relations between Serbia and Kosovo said Thursday he is “rather optimistic” that the next top-level meeting in the stalled EU-facilitated negotiations would result in some progress.

Miroslav Lajcak did not specify when the meeting between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo — following two others that produced no breakthrough — could take place. But he said diplomatic efforts are underway to make sure that the future encounter in Brussels between Serbia’s President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti provides results.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have been told they must find common ground in order to move forward in their bids to join the 27-nation EU.

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The focus of their dispute is Kosovo’s 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia, after a bloody conflict in 1998-99 that killed around 13,000 people and triggered a NATO intervention. Belgrade refuses to recognize its former province’s independence.

“The question is when, certainly not if, the meeting will happen,” Lajcak said at a joint press conference with Gabriel Escobar, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for the Western Balkans at the State Department. “As soon as we have clear understanding of what will be the outcome, and we are quite close to it, we will invite (the) parties to Brussels.”

Lajcak offered no other details. He and Escobar spoke at the end of their visits this week to Kosovo and Serbia, meant to stress U.S. and EU unity in efforts to resolve open issues in the Western Balkans as well as Western commitment to the region’s future in the EU.

“We would like to see rapid progress in moving ahead with the legally binding agreement on normalization of relations,” said Lajcak.

Since the start of the EU-brokered negotiations 11 years ago, Belgrade and Pristina have agreed on a number of issues, including free travel and trade. But they have remained far apart on Kosovo’s independence.

Escobar said that although the United States is not directly involved in the dialogue it will support any agreement financially, politically and technically. He urged the two sides to move forward and open “tremendous potential” for the region.

“The countries of the Western Balkans should be part of the European community, should be on the EU membership track,” said Escobar. “For us, the greatest promise for Serbia and Kosovo to be on that track is the EU-facilitated dialogue with American support.”

Kosovo’s independence has been recognized by Washington and most EU nations, while Serbia has relied on support from Russia and China in its efforts to retain claim on the territory.