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Biden Arrives In Pristina Urging Better Serbian-Kosovar Ties

  • RFE/RL's Balkan Service

Standing alongside Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (right), U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) waves to onlookers upon his arrival in Pristina late on August 16

Standing alongside Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (right), U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (left) waves to onlookers upon his arrival in Pristina late on August 16

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has arrived in Kosovo after a one-day visit to Serbia where he met with the Balkan country's top officials.

Biden was met at the airport in the Kosovar capital, Pristina, by President Hashim Thaci and his wife in an elaborate welcoming ceremony late on August 16.

Majlinda Kelmendi, fresh from winning a gold medal in judo at the Rio Olympics and becoming a heroine in Kosovo, was also there to greet the vice president.

Biden is due to hold talks on August 17 with Thaci and Prime Minister Isa Mustafa.

Biden flew to Kosovo from Serbia, where he held talks with Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic and Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.

In Belgrade, Biden encouraged Serbia to normalize its relations with Kosovo while also offering condolences to the victims of the Kosovo conflict and NATO air attacks that helped end it in 1999.

"I'd like to express my condolences to the families of those whose lives were lost in the wars of the 1990s, including those killed as a consequence of the NATO air strikes," Biden said after talks with Vucic.

WATCH: Biden Offers Condolences To Serbs For NATO Airstrikes

Biden is the first high-ranking U.S. official to express such sentiments in Serbia.

Serbia does not recognize Kosovo, a former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008, as an independent state.

Normalized bilateral relations are considered a precondition for Serbia and Kosovo to gain EU membership, which both countries seek.

But an EU-brokered deal between Belgrade and Pristina to improve and regulate relations between the two countries has only been moderately successful.

For his part, Vucic pointed to a new future in Kosovar-Serbian relations.

"Many people have committed many mistakes in the relations between Serbs and Albanians," he said after meeting with Biden. "For us -- as the [Serbian] nation and the government of the Republic of Serbia, and for me personally -- it has never been a problem, and is not [a problem] today, to accept responsibility for the mistakes committed by our compatriots. Also, we believe that all others will do the same because many Serbs and many Albanians have suffered.... We think a different future is ahead of us, in which we will be able to seek agreement rather than aiming at each other with guns."

Hundreds of ultranationalists rallied outside the Serbian presidency building and chanted "Vote for Trump!" during Biden's visit to Belgrade.

"Trump is the alternative to globalization -- he will destroy old centers of power in the United States and he is a supporter of Russia," Vojislav Seselj, head of Serbia's ultranationalist Radical Party and acquitted war crimes suspect, told the Reuters news agency at the protest.

WATCH: U.S. Vice President Biden In Belgrade At Start Of Balkan Tour

Many still resent the NATO air strikes against Serbia and U.S. support for Kosovo's drive for independence. Belgrade also has close relations with Moscow and many politicians are very pro-Russian.

Vucic is seen as West-leaning and as trying to move Serbia into position to join the EU, while Nikolic has an ultranationalist history and is viewed as wanting to preserve Belgrade's close ties to Russia.

During Biden's one-day visit to Kosovo, officials will unveil a street named after the vice president's son, Beau, who died of brain cancer last year.

Biden is participating in his last major foreign tour as vice president.

He will also travel to Turkey and to Latvia for a meeting with the three Baltic presidents in Riga before going also to Sweden.

With reporting from The Baltic Times and Reuters