Serbia President Eyes Deal on North Kosovo

Ahead of the next round of Kosovo talks, Serbia’s President says a deal on the Serb-run north is within reach now that Kosovo has agreed to certain ‘concessions’.Tomislav Nikolic said that a deal between Kosovo and Serbia over northern Kosovo was within sight, following talks in Brussels in which Kosovo had “relented” over the powers to be given to an “Association of Serbian Municipalities” in Kosovo.

“I’m convinced that we are very close, but that now depends on whether people in Pristina are aware that they have to help people or only their political careers,” Nikolic said on Monday, after Serbia’s top three officials met with the EU’s Catherine Ashton.

Ashton was meeting Serbian and Kosovo officials ahead of the seventh meeting of the prime ministers of the two countries, taking place within the framework of an EU-mediated dialogue on March 20.

On Thursday, Ashton plans to visit Kosovo to meet the Kosovo Prime Minister, Hashim Thaci, and the leaders of political parties.

Dacic and Thaci are expected to flesh out the modalities of dismantling Serbian-financed “parallel” institutions in the Serb-run north of Kosovo, and discuss the future operations of the “Association of Serbian Municipalities”, which Kosovo authorities have agreed to endorse.

In a statement after the talks with Serbian officials, Ashton said they “spoke in particular about the implementation of the agreements already reached and about the need to finalise discussions on open issues, notably on northern Kosovo, in view of the next meeting of the dialogue for normalisation of relations”.

Meanwhile, in Kosovo, Thaci on Tuesday downplayed the importance of the concessions Nikolic said he had obtained on the Association of Serbian Municipalities.

“We are ready to accept the establishment of the association if it is in line with Kosovo’s constitution, the European Charter for Local Self-Governance and the Law on Local Governance, Thaci said.

The EU-mediated technical dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia was launched in March 2011.

The aim is to normalize relations between the two countries, both of which aspire to EU membership, in the context of Serbia’s refusal to recognise Kosovo’s independence.

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