Serbia "never closer" to deal with Kosovo, says president

By bne IntelliNews March 15, 2013

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Serb President Tomislav Nikolic expanded on remarks he made earlier in the week on the EU-brokered Kosovo talks, telling reporters on March 14 that Serbia has never been closer to a deal with Kosovo, after talks with the foreign policy chief of the European Union.

The two sides are now closer in on a resolution of their decade-long dispute since the predominantly ethnic-Albanian province was freed from Belgrade's rule with Nato's help. Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in 2008. The EU has made improvement in relations between the two a condition of starting EU accession talks with Serbia. But a big stumbling block is what to do with the enclave of Serbs in northern Kosovo, who object to rule from Pristina.

Nikolic told the press he is "moderately optimistic" after the meeting with the EU's Catherine Ashton. Ashton met earlier in the day with officials in Kosovo before arriving in Belgrade, Xinhua reports. "You always hope that we can come to a solution, and now I can say that I am optimistic," said Nikolic. "We've never been closer to an agreement."

Ashton said in a statement: "I visited Belgrade today for further consultations with Serbian leaders in the EU-brokered dialogue to normalize relations between the two sides (Serbia and Kosovo)." The diplomatic push comes ahead of EU-sponsored talks in Brussels on March 20, when officials from Serbia and Kosovo will meet.

However, not everyone in Belgrade was as postivie as the president. Serbia is prepared to "compromise," but will not "accept humiliation," Serb Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said. "That's our message ahead of talks on March 20," he added, denying that Belgrade is prepared to normalize relations with Pristina.

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