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Despite Lack Of Progress In Talks, Kosovo's Kurti Sees 'Shift For Good' With Serbia

Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks to RFE/RL in Pristina on November 16.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti speaks to RFE/RL in Pristina on November 16.

PRISTINA -- Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti says that talks on the normalization of ties with Serbia are stalling despite of what he called a "tectonic shift for good" in bilateral relations.

Kurti, a left-wing reformist who came to power after a landmark victory in February's parliamentary elections -- has pledged a new approach in talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

But progress in talks has so far been meager, despite efforts by the European Union and the United States to bring the two sides closer. Both Brussels and Washington insist that normalization of relations between Belgrade and Pristina is essential for their further integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Kurti told RFE/RL that given the "lack of progress," the sides needed to redouble their efforts to kick-start the talks.

"We need a new chapter, we need a new approach, and for us it must be principled with the citizens as beneficiaries and with mutual recognition at the center," Kurti said.

However, the Kosovar prime minister hailed what he called "a tectonic shift for good" in the bilateral contacts since he came to power, with discussions about mutual recognition playing a central role.

"An agreement will not be just on mutual recognition, but there is no agreement without mutual recognition at the center. So, not in the end, in the sense of time, but in the center, in the sense of the space of things that that agreement includes," Kurti said.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, nearly a decade after the war between ethnic Albanian separatists and the forces of rump Yugoslavia. The war ended after a 78-day NATO bombing campaign that drove Belgrade's troops out.

Kosovo's independence has been recognized by more than 100 countries including the United States and all but five of the European Union's 27 member states. But Serbia still considers the territory a southern province and is supported by Russia and China.

At a summit last month, EU leaders reaffirmed the bloc's commitment to the stalled enlargement process for six Western Balkans states that include Kosovo and Serbia, without giving a concrete timeline.

Kurti and Vucic met on the sidelines of the summit in Slovenia, with Vucic acknowledging that Serbia would not be able to join the EU unless it resolves outstanding issues with Kosovo.

While Serbia is more advanced, having opened accession negotiations and chapters with the EU, Kosovo remains at the potential-candidate stage.

A resumption of talks has also been hampered by a recent standoff at the Kosovo-Serbia border in September that was triggered by a dispute over vehicle registration plates.

The 10-day dispute was resolved after the two sides reached an agreement during European Union-mediated talks in Brussels that involved deploying members of the NATO-led KFOR stabilization force at crossings.

A third meeting between Kurti and Vucic before the end of the year has been floated by EU foreign-policy chief Josep Borrell.

But Kurti, whose political standing has been seriously shaken by his party's shock losses in local elections last week, told RFE/RL that a future meeting with Vucic will depend on the results of preparation talks between the delegations of the two sides scheduled for November 16 in Brussels.

"We must first see how these talks are going this week between the two chief negotiators. Then we can say what is the perspective of a future meeting, in which case of course it should be known also what is the purpose of such a meeting," Kurti said.

"The government of Kosovo and I as prime minister have expressed our readiness and interest in comprehensive agreements, constructive meetings, principled talks and if we are invited to them in Brussels, of course we will participate as we have been twice before."

Kurti concluded that a final agreement with Serbia would still be possible during his term as prime minister but that will depend on Belgrade's determination to come to a "comprehensive agreement" with Kosovo.

"I cannot predict when it will happen, but if we consider that the mandate of the American president, [Joe] Biden, the mandate of the vice president of the European Commission, Borrell, and my mandate -- those will have approximately the same duration, it could be expected that within these mandates...we will conclude a comprehensive agreement with Serbia. We have the will and the interest, it depends on whether Serbia is ready," Kurti said.

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