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Leaders Of Serbia, Kosovo To Meet In Bid To End Bitterness

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini (center), with Kosovar President Hashim Thaci (left) and his Serbian counterpart, Aleksandar Vucic, in Brussels on August 31

The presidents of Serbia and Kosovo are scheduled to meet in Brussels on March 23 as the Balkan neighbors attempt to normalize relations.

Aleksandar Vucic and Hashim Thaci will seek ways to end the bitterness between their countries, something the European Union insists upon before Serbia and Kosovo can join the bloc.

The talks will be hosted by EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008 following a decade-long struggle, including a bloody period of armed resistance in 1998-99 that ended after a 78-day air-strike campaign by NATO against Serbia to stop a crackdown against Kosovo's ethnic Albanian majority.

Some 117 countries recognize Kosovo’s independence, although Serbia and its ally Russia do not.

The EU-sponsored dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina has already produced agreements in areas such as freedom of movement, justice, and the status of the Serbian minority in Kosovo -- as well as enabling Serbia to start EU accession talks and Brussels to sign an Association Agreement with Kosovo.

Ahead of the Brussels meeting, Vucic was in New York to meet with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, while Thaci was in Washington for talks with U.S. officials, including Wess Mitchell, the assistant secretary of state for Europe and Eurasia.

“I’m here to coordinate our engagements with the U.S. government, since we are now entering a new and an important phase in a dialogue,” Thaci told RFE/RL

“Our commitment has to be very clearly coordinated today and in the future. It is a process that will open a way for achieving a final agreement to completely normalize relations between Kosovo and Serbia,” he said.

Thaci said the “sensitive issue” requires coordination with “all friends and partners,” but he added that “the main address” for Kosovo remains in Washington.

Kosovo’s president said he was working on an agreement with Serbia that would be legally binding and based on the condition that Serbia will recognize Kosovo, and that Kosovo will get a seat at the UN.

He also said he hopes an agreement would mean “the end to all dark chapters and open the way to a new era of cooperation, understanding, normalization, and conciliation.”

Vucic, meanwhile, said he told Guterres that Serbia was “ready to compromise, but not to sacrifice all of its interests."

"I will do my best as the president to protect our interests. I have to go before the people, to offer something to our people," he told Serbian media from New York.

With reporting by RFE/RL’s Balkan Service, B92, AP, AFP, and Balkan Insight
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