BELGRADE (Reuters) -- Serbia is pinning its hopes for better relations with Kosovo on an international court ruling, but will never recognize Kosovo's independence, Serbian President Boris Tadic has said on the first anniversary
of Kosovo's declaration of independence.
The declaration was bitterly opposed by Serbia, which sees the region as the cradle of its religious and national identity.
Serbia last year asked the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule on the legality of Kosovo's secession. But a ruling could take years, and would not be binding.
"The only way for us to enter talks about the future status of Kosovo and a compromise solution is the court's ruling," Tadic told Reuters in an interview.
Recourse to the court implies Serbia would accept its ruling, however it turned out. But Tadic nevertheless restated a position that remains a political imperative in Serbia.
"Serbia will never take a single action that implies Kosovo's independence," Tadic said.
Kosovo is patrolled by NATO peacekeepers and administered by EU and United Nations missions, 10 years after its conflict between Serbs and Albanians ended in 1999, when NATO bombing forced Serbian troops to end a crackdown on Albanians.
"Serbia wants to see the return of normal life in Kosovo," Tadic said. "The protection of human and minority rights there is below an acceptable level and we haven't seen many [Serb] returnees."
The United States, 22 of 27 EU members and a number of other countries have recognized Kosovo as an independent state but others, including UN Security Council members Russia and China, have not.
Tadic said Serbia would not block Kosovo's accession to international financial agencies on condition the territory was represented there by the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).
Tadic, a pro-Western politician, said Serbia would not hasten the submission of its candidacy to the European Union, reflecting a new approach after EU officials told Belgrade not to rush its application.
"I am a practical man...[and] full EU membership is more important than formal application," Tadic said.
The Netherlands is opposing the unfreezing of an EU trade deal with Serbia until it arrests and hands over former Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic to the UN war crimes tribunal in The Hague, which wants him on genocide charges.
"We don't know where [Mladic] is now. Serbia will boost operations of its law enforcement agencies and use its economic resources to arrest Mladic," Tadic said.