Deadlocked Serbia and Kosovo rebuff western call for compromise

Balkan neighbours trade blame for impasse in EU-brokered talks to normalise relations

New recruits of the Kosovo Security Force throw their caps in the air during their swearing-in ceremony at the Adem Jashari barracks in Pristina. Photograph: Armend Nimani / AFP

New recruits of the Kosovo Security Force throw their caps in the air during their swearing-in ceremony at the Adem Jashari barracks in Pristina. Photograph: Armend Nimani / AFP

 

Serbia and Kosovo have rejected a call from western states to make compromises that could help restart EU-brokered talks to normalise their relations.

Negotiations broke down last November when the Pristina government imposed a 100 per cent tax on imports from Serbia, in retaliation for Belgrade successfully lobbying to keep Kosovo out of Interpol, the international police organisation.

With help from its main ally, Russia, Serbia is intent on blocking its former province from international forums, while Kosovo insists that it will not lift the tariff until Belgrade recognises its 2008 declaration of independence.

“The status quo prevents progress on Kosovo and Serbia’s path towards the European Union and is simply not sustainable,” the US, Germany, France, Britain and Italy said in a joint statement.

“Therefore, we call on Kosovo and Serbia to restart the EU-led dialogue with urgency and ask that both parties avoid actions that will hinder a final agreement,” the five governments added.

“We are prepared to step up our role in the process . . . but we cannot do so until you both signal a willingness to compromise, remove obstacles and resume discussions. For Kosovo, that means suspending the tariffs imposed on Serbia. For Serbia, that means suspending the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo.”

Hard lobbying

More than 110 countries, including Ireland, acknowledge Kosovo’s independence, but Serbia is urging some of those states to change their position and is lobbying hard – with Moscow’s help – to prevent any further recognitions.

“They are trying to create an artificial balance of responsibility by calling on both sides to compromise,” Serbian foreign minister Ivica Dacic said on Wednesday.

“It is clear that they want Kosovo to become a member of all international organisations and to be recognised by as many countries as possible, and that Serbia should just welcome all that. It does not say anywhere that these countries will stop lobbying for Kosovo’s independence,” he told Serbian television.

Mr Dacic insisted that Belgrade “will continue this policy” of opposing recognition of Kosovo’s sovereignty: “Where does it say that Serbia has agreed not to protect its own national and state interests?”

In Kosovo, which broke from Belgrade’s control in a 1998-9 war, the government said the tax on Serbian goods helps “protect the integrity and sovereignty of the country . . . from hostile actions and constant threats from Serbia”.

“We are prepared to sit down at the table to find a final, legally binding agreement within existing borders which leads to mutual recognition, but no conditions should be set on that process,” N1 television quoted the government as saying.

Russia’s ambassador to Belgrade, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, said there was “nothing new or promising” in the statement from western powers, which he accused of preparing “to blame Belgrade once again for the collapse of dialogue”.