Serbia’s President Discusses Kosovo with Patriarch

After private meeting with Church leader, President says he remains open to dialogue with leaders of breakaway Kosovo.Tomislav Nikolic, Serbia’s new President, met with Patriarch Irinej, the Head of the Serbian Orthodox Church, on Monday to discuss the Kosovo issue.

Addressing reporters after the meeting, Nikolic said he remained open to talks with leaders of Kosovo, in spite of Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence. “I see no reason to refuse to meet with Pristina officials but I would do it strictly formally,” he said.The visit to the head of the Serbian Church followed a meeting between Nikolic and Philip Gordon, US Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs in which Kosovo was also a topic.

A statement from the President’s office said Nikolic and Gordon “talked about the situation in Kosovo, with the Serbian President noting that the international structures there need to perform their tasks in line with the mandates approved by Serbia, ensuring the safety and protecting the rights of all citizens in the province”.

Ahead of the visit, Gordon said that Serbia “was not expected to recognize Kosovo at this point, but it would have to come to terms with the reality of a democratic, sovereign, independent and multi-ethnic Kosovo within its current borders”.

Kosovo unilaterally declared independence in February 2008, but Serbia has rejected the independence proclamation as illegal.

Nikolic earlier met the Patriarch on June 4, when he went for a blessing and advice on how to wisely conduct the talks on the formation of a new government.

Nikolic is not the only Serbian politician to have visited the Patriarchate in Belgrade lately.

Since the May local, general and presidential elections, leaders of the Democrats and the Socialists have also visited the head of the Serbian Orthodox Church.

Ivica Dacic, leader of the Socialists and Prime Minister designate, went to Patriarch Irinej on June 3 to ask for a blessing to form a new government.

On May 22, two days after he lost to Nikolic in the presidential run-off, Boris Tadic of the Democrats payed a private visit to the Patriarch.

Bishop Irinej of Backa, the Church’s spokesperson, said that the Church’s doors remained open to everyone, regardless of party affiliation.

“We do not have a [political] party character, and it might even be a form of blasphemy on our side if we contribute to divisions [between parties],” Bishop Irinej said.

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