Serbia, Kosovo to resume talks but won't budge on key issues

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France's President Emmanuel Macron, right, attends a visio conference with Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, at the Elysee Palace, in Paris, Friday, July 10, 2020. The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo will hold talks in Brussels on July 12, the first meeting between the two in long-stalled European Union-supervised negotiations aimed at normalizing relations, European Commission spokesman Peter Stano said Monday. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena, Pool)

BRUSSELS – Serbia and Kosovo agreed Friday to resume long-stalled negotiations on normalizing their strained relations, but both sides refused to budge on key issues in their dispute during video talks led by France and Germany.

And Serbia's president said the Europeans have unrealistic expectations for any breakthrough.

French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel held virtual preparatory talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Avdullah Hoti aiming to set up the first face-to-face meeting of the Balkans leaders since November 2018 under a European Union-backed dialogue process.

That meeting had been slated to take place in Brussels on Sunday, but it has now been downgraded to a follow-up videoconference, with the in-person talks only likely to happen Thursday. No reason was given for the change of plans.

In a joint statement after Friday's talks, France and Germany said that Vucic and Hoti “agreed to resume the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina that has been suspended since 2018.” It said the two agreed to “deepen cooperation” in various areas to help rebuild trust.

The statement noted that “the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia is extremely important for security and stability in the region and, beyond that, of great significance for the EU membership prospects of both countries."

Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo have rarely eased in the more than 20 years since Belgrade sent troops into its then-province to crush a separatist uprising. Ethnic Albanians made up the rebel Kosovo Liberation Army that fought Serbian armed forces in 1998-99 and now are the majority in Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008.

Serbia has never recognized Kosovo's independence — indeed only 22 of the 27 EU nations do as well — and statehood remains the biggest stumbling block. The five EU countries that don't recognize Kosovo's independence are Romania, Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Spain.