Serbia must continue to seek diplomatic resolutions to problems with Kosovo if it wants to move closer to EU membership, the top US and EU diplomats said Tuesday in Belgrade as they continued a troubleshooting tour of the Balkans, dpa reported.
"The future of Serbia is in the EU," EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said after she and US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton met Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic and President Tomislav Nikolic. "Our discussion today was focused on what needs to be done for that."
Crucial conditions for Serbia, said Clinton and Ashton, include restarting talks with Kosovo, making new agreements and implementing those made in previous rounds, both said.
Kosovo, a former Serbian province with a majority Albanian population, declared independence in 2008. That was recognized by the US, 22 of the 27 EU members states and nearly all countries in the region. However, Belgrade continues to insist on sovereignty over the territory.
Nonetheless, Serbia's leadership has long craved tighter integration into the EU, in the hopes of boosting its economic prospects. The Kosovo issue continues to be the primary hurdle there, on top of painful reforms that would be required before membership.
Ashton and Clinton said Serbia is not required to recognize Kosovo in upcoming talks, which may relieve some pressure upon Dacic, who has come under attack from opponents saying any compromise with Kosovo brings it closer to independence.
More domestic political wiggle room might, in turn, give him more space to bring the Kosovo talks forward.
Two weeks ago, Dacic met his Kosovo counterpart, Hashim Thaci, in a meeting brokered by Ashton. It was the first ever meeting of Serbian and Kosovan premiers, which the nationalist opposition blasted as a step toward recognition.
But Clinton made clear her stance on Kosovo.
"Kosovo is an independent state, borders will not be changed."
Dacic said that his cabinet remains committed to the talks after it "took the responsibility and, to be truthful, political risk" of continuing them at a higher level. The next planned meeting, presumably again with Thaci, is planned for November.
Belgrade officials are hoping that restarting the talks will be enough for the EU to set a date for the start of Serbia's membership negotiations.
Clinton and Ashton arrived in Belgrade from the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, where they warned ethnic Serb leaders there against secessionist rhetoric and urged politicians to leave bickering aside so they can begin reforms necessary to unblocking gridlock in their country.
"It is totally unacceptable to see that, 17 years after the end of the war, ... anybody may question the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bosnia," Clinton said after she and Ashton met with the three-man Bosnian presidency.
Clinton's remarks targeted the most powerful Serb leader, Milorad Dodik, who has hinting at a secession for the Serb-dominated part of the country.
She said that Bosnia's prosperity and stability will be protected if it takes a path leading towards EU and NATO membership.
But ethnic leaders - Muslims, Serbs and Croats - must stop hobbling each other and agree to reform the complicated, inefficient governing system put in place by the international community to end the 1992-95 war, she said.
"Bosnia, without a doubt, belongs in (the) EU ... but (its) leaders must be ready to compromise to serve the interest of their people," Clinton said.
The peace agreement, which also serves as a constitution, divided Bosnia into two nearly sovereign "entities," one for Muslims and Croats, the other for Serbs.
Each of the entities has its own full administration and is, effectively, stronger than the joint central government. The US and the EU are now pressing leaders of the ethnic communities to cede their powers to the central government, in order to strengthen it.
"Bosnia has no time to waste on unproductive discussions ... Political leaders must do what the majority of citizens in this country wants, and that is Euro-Atlantic integration," Ashton said.
The absence of reforms has prevented Bosnia from even applying for EU membership, which leaves it far behind all other former Yugoslav republics.
Bosnia was torn by war pitting the Serbs against Muslims and Croats from 1992 until 1995. Some 100,000 died in fighting and millions were displaced in campaigns of ethnic cleansing.
The two diplomats joined forces to strengthen the messages they plan to deliver. After Belgrade, they were due in Kosovo, Albania and Croatia