Tentative deal reached after marathon talks between Serbian, Kosovar leaders and EU officials in North Macedonia.
Kosovo and Serbia have tentatively agreed on how to implement a European Union-sponsored plan to normalize their ties, according to the bloc’s top diplomat, although leaders of the two nations said disagreements remained.
Saturday’s deal came after 12-hour talks between Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and EU officials over the implementation of the normalization plan agreed by both sides in Brussels last month.
The two leaders met separately with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell ahead of a tripartite meeting in the north Macedonian city of Ohrid.
“We have a deal,” Borrell tweeted after the meeting.
“Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on the annex to the implementation of the agreement on the way to normalize relations,” he said.
This means “practical steps about what needs to be done, when, by whom and how,” he added at a news conference.
we have a deal
Kosovo and Serbia have agreed on the implementation annex of the agreement on the way to normalize relations
The parties have fully agreed to comply with all articles of the Agreement and to carry out their respective obligations appropriately and in good faith. pic.twitter.com/p3CUBdcd8A
— Josep Borrell Fontelles (@JosepBorrellF) March 18, 2023
Kosovo and Serbia have been in EU-backed talks for nearly 10 years since Kosovo declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after war ended Serbian rule. But Serbia still regards Kosovo as a breakaway province, and flare-ups between its Balkan neighbors have stoked fears of a return to conflict.
Both countries hope to one day join the EU and have been told they must first improve their relations. Resolving the dispute between Serbia and Kosovo has become more important as war rages in Ukraine and fears mount in the West that Russia may seek to stoke instability in the volatile Balkans, where it has historical clout.
The EU plan envisages the two countries maintaining good neighborly relations and recognizing each other’s official documents and national symbols. But the plan, drafted by France and Germany and backed by the United States, does not specifically provide for mutual recognition between Kosovo and Serbia.
If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking attempts by Kosovo to seek membership in the United Nations and other international organizations.
Although Serbia’s populist President Vucic tentatively approved the EU plan reached last month, he appeared to be retracting some of his points under pressure from far-right groups who see Kosovo as the cradle of the Serbian state and Orthodox religion.
Vucic said on Thursday he “won’t sign anything” at the Ohrid meeting and had earlier promised he would never recognize Kosovo or allow its UN membership. He reiterated on Saturday that he had not signed the implementation document despite Kurti’s insistence.
He said the parties did not agree on everything, but “despite differences, we had decent talks”.
He added: “We face serious and difficult tasks in the coming months.”
On the other hand, Kurti complained that Vucic didn’t sign the implementation contract on Saturday.
“This is a de facto recognition between Kosovo and Serbia,” as Serbia has yet to sign the deal, he said, adding, “Now it’s up to the EU to make it internationally binding.”
Borrell said the EU will now urge both sides to meet their commitments if they want to join the bloc, warning there would be consequences if they did not.
He also addressed a proposed amalgamation of Serb communities in Kosovo that would give more autonomy to Serb-majority communities, a long-debated issue.
“Kosovo has agreed to immediately – and when I say immediately, I mean immediately – start negotiations with the European Union to facilitate dialogue on the establishment of a specific agreement and guarantees to ensure an adequate level of self-government for the Serb communities in the country Secure Kosovo,” said the top EU diplomat.
Kosovo is a majority Albanian former province of Serbia. The 1998-1999 war erupted when separatist ethnic Albanians rebelled against Serbian rule and Belgrade responded with a brutal crackdown.
About 13,000 people died, mostly ethnic Albanians.
In 1999, a NATO military intervention forced Serbia to withdraw from the territory. Kosovo declared its independence in 2008.
Since then, tensions have simmered. Kosovo’s independence is recognized by many Western countries, but Belgrade, with the support of Russia and China, rejects it. Talks brokered by the EU have made little progress in recent years.
Serbia has maintained close ties with its traditional Slavic ally Russia despite the war in Ukraine, partly because of Moscow’s opposition to Kosovo’s independence and a possible veto of its UN Security Council membership.