Kosovo's government says EU-brokered talks with Serbia will resume in Brussels on April 19 in a last-ditch effort to reach an agreement on normalizing ties seen as key to Serbia and Kosovo's hopes for European integration.
The announcement comes after 14 hours of talks involving Serbian Prime Minister Ivica Dacic, his Kosovar counterpart Hashim Thaci, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton ended in Brussels on April 18 without a deal.
The stalemate could cast doubt on Serbia's ability to win approval to start European Union membership talks.
It is the latest failure in a long-running European effort to bridge the divide between Serbia and its former territory, which declared independence in 2008.
Serbia reportedly has offered to recognize Pristina's authority over Kosovo's ethnic Serbs if they are granted more autonomy.
Ashton called it "a very long and intensive day" but ultimately disappointing.
"I said last time that this agreement was close, that the differences were narrow but deep," she said as hopes of a deal were dimming. "I can say with real confidence [this time] that the differences are narrow and very shallow."
She stressed that an agreement is still possible in the coming days, however.
"As we prepare for the General Affairs Council on [April 22], where I will make my report, we have some hours left," Ashton said. "I hope in that time, that both delegations will reflect on whether they can take the final steps necessary to finish this agreement and to move their people forward into the future."
Main Sticking Point
The EU has linked Serbian progress toward EU membership to improvements in ties with Kosovo, where a Serbian minority rejects the authority of the ethnic Albanian-led government.
The April 17-18 negotiations came after the EU on April 16 delayed the release of reports assessing Serbia's and Kosovo's readiness to pursue further European integration.
The delay came after Serbia last week rejected an EU-brokered agreement. But Ashton called the leaders back for more talks this week in a bid to secure a deal.
Kosovar Prime Minister Thaci said he had accepted the proposals put forward by Ashton aimed at normalizing relations between the Kosovar government and the small, Serb-populated part of north Kosovo that rejects his government.
"It is important that an agreement can be reached," Thaci said. "It's in the interest of the whole region, it's in the interest of our two countries, and it's in the interest of the European Union."
Prime Minister Dacic said the plan put forward by Ashton was more acceptable to Serbia than earlier proposals. But he criticized the Kosovar Albanian side and said Serbia was prepared to wait until an even more acceptable deal for Serbs emerges.
"But clearly, Pristina is not ready to go to the very end. It is obstructing the talks. It is threatening to solve the issue of northern Kosovo with other methods, expecting it will create nervousness on our side," Dacic said. "We will keep our patience and our common sense in order to pursue the talks so that we can find a solution in the coming days that we believe is acceptable."
Kosovo broke away from Serbia after the 1999 NATO air war that was aimed at halting the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanian civilians by Serbian forces trying to crush a guerrilla insurgency.
Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence from Serbia is recognized by 98 countries, including the United States and most EU states.
Serbia, backed by its ally Russia, rejects independence, continuing to regard Kosovo as a Serbian province.
Based on reporting by RFE/RL Brussels correspondent Rikard Jozwiak, AFP, Reuters, and AP