Serbia-Kosovo talks in Brussels yield very little progress

Kosovo PM Avdullah Hoti (L), EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell (C), and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (R), Brussels, 16 July.

The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo on Thursday held their first face-to-face talks in 20 months under the EU-mediated dialogue process aimed at normalizing relations between the two Balkan neighbours. Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo's PM Avdullah Hoti came away from the meeting still far apart on a host of issues but agreed to meet again in-person in early September, news wires reported. Technical-level talks will continue next week among officials.

The EU special envoy Miroslav Lajcak, who is mediating the talks, said the two sides focused on the issues of missing and displaced persons as well as economic cooperation. Hoti emerged from the talks saying progress had been made but that it was a difficult meeting.“I have presented our position and I will never move from that position,” he said. The Serbian leader Vucic said he wanted to solve the outstanding disputes with Kosovo, but the differences are too big at the moment.

Earlier, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who is chairing the Brussels talks with Lajcak, called on both sides to demonstrate “spirit of compromise and pragmatism”. EU-backed negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade broke down in November 2018 over reports of a proposed land swap and after Kosovo imposed a 100% tax on Serbian imports. Both Kosovo and Serbia, which aspire to join the EU, have been facing mounting pressure from the West to reboot negotiations.

On 10 July, both sides agreed to resume talks after a video summit hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In those talks, Vucic and Hoti held firm to their positions. The Serbian president said the EU-backed process will be “meaningless” if they focus on whether Belgrade should recognize Kosovo’s independence. Kosovo says mutual recognition between the two countries is the only way to normalize relations.

The new push at dialogue comes as war-crimes prosecutors in The Hague on 16 July ended four days of questioning Kosovar President Hashim Thaci. The charges against him led to the postponement of a planned White House summit between Thaci and his Serbian counterpart on 27 June.

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