PRISTINA – Envoys from the European Union and the United States on Wednesday urged Kosovo and Serbia to make concrete progress in EU-brokered negotiations aimed at resolving a long-running dispute that remains a source of tensions in the volatile Balkans.
Miroslav Lajcak, the EU’s special envoy for the talks, and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary Gabriel Escobar ended a three-day visit to Pristina, Kosovo, where they met with local leaders and the international community.
“We both want to see Kosovo and Serbia turn the page, to leave the past behind and to normalize relations,” Lajcak told a news conference before heading to Belgrade, the capital of Serbia.
Lajcak said that normalizing ties between Kosovo and Serbia would contribute to the stability in the region.
“The international community expected faster progress in the dialogue in 2021, and we hope that this will be the case in 2022,” he added.
Later Wednesday in Belgrade, Lajcak and Escobar met with populist Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. The officials discussed “further steps” in the Kosovo talks as well as stability and the future of the Balkans, according to a statement from Vucic’s office.
Western Balkan countries are at different stages of the integration process with the European Union.
Kosovo declared independence in 2008 after a bloody conflict with Serbia that left more than 10,000 people dead and triggered a NATO intervention. Pristina's government is recognized by the United States and most EU nations, but Belgrade has refused to recognized its independence. and relies on support from Russia and China in its bid to retain claims on the territory.
Brussels has made clear to both countries that they cannot move forward in their efforts to join the EU before resolving their rift.
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 remained far apart on Kosovo’s independence.
Escobar reiterated that U.S. administrations have strongly supported Kosovo’s independence and territorial integrity. He added, however, that it is up to the two countries how to normalize their ties.
Semini reported from Tirana, Albania.
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