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Tusk Urges Kosovo, Serbia To Work Harder At Normalizing Ties To Join EU

European Council President Donald Tusk speaks at a press conference after a meeting with Kosovo's president in Pristina on April 26.

European Council President Donald Tusk has urged Kosovo to work harder on normalizing ties with Serbia, as part of its European Union integration efforts.

"Without a comprehensive normalization of relations with Serbia and full implementation of the agreements, I don't see how a breakthrough in relations with the EU could be achieved," Tusk said on April 26 at a joint news conference with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci.

"I know it is going to be hard but I am still a cautious optimist," Tusk said.

Tusk made similar remarks in Belgrade the previous day after talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, emphasizing that normal relations with Kosovo are also a key condition for Serbia to make progress on EU integration.

Serbia wants to join the EU while maintaining close ties with traditional ally Russia.

Vucic told Tusk that Belgrade wants to reach a compromise on Kosovo, "so our children don't have the same problem as we do today."

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, in a move recognized by 116 countries, including 23 out of 28 EU members.

But Belgrade has refused to recognize Kosovo and still regards it as a Serbian province. Moreover, around 120,000 Serbs who live in Kosovo still consider Belgrade their capital, and they are financially supported by Serbia.

Tusk is on a weeklong tour of the Western Balkans ahead of a regional summit on May 17.

During his visit, a contract for a 45 million-euro ($54.82 million) loan was signed with the European Investment Bank to go toward upgrading Serbia's and Montenegro's air-traffic control systems so they meet EU regulations.

With reporting by Reuters