Serbia, Kosovo back normalising ties but need more talks -EU's Borrell

By Andrew Gray, Aleksandar Vasovic and Fatos Bytyci

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -The leaders of Serbia and Kosovo agreed on Monday to a Western-backed deal to normalise relations but more talks are needed on the implementation of the pact, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said.

Speaking after hosting talks in Brussels between Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti, Borrell said the leaders agreed "no further discussions" are needed on the deal between the former wartime foes.

"Progress was made today, and I commend the parties for their engagement," Borrell told reporters.

"At the same time, more work is needed, to ensure that what was accepted today by the parties will be implemented. It is important to agree (but) it is still more important to implement what has been agreed."

Kosovo declared independence in 2008, almost a decade after war brought an end to Serbian rule. But Serbia still regards Kosovo as a breakaway province and flare-ups between the Balkan neighbours have stoked fears of a return to conflict.

Under the new deal, Serbia stops short of recognising Kosovo as an independent state but agrees to recognise official documents such as passports, diplomas and licence plates and not to block Kosovo's membership of any international organisation.

Serbia has so far relied on its ally Russia, a veto-holding member of the U.N. Security Council, and other countries that do not recognise Kosovo to prevent its neighbour joining the U.N.

According to the text of the EU-brokered deal published on Monday night, Kosovo - whose population is mainly ethnic Albanian - agrees to "ensure an appropriate level of self-management" for its Serb community.

But the details of that arrangement, and other contentious issues, are expected to be part of an annex on implementing the deal and previous commitments. Borrell said the annex was an "integral part" of the new deal but it had not yet been agreed.

He said he would convene another leaders' meeting next month with the aim of finalising the annex.


Kurti said he had been ready to sign the deal at the meeting on Monday. "It is a pity that we did not sign the deal tonight despite the fact that we all agree," he told reporters.

But Vucic said that was an unrealistic expectation, as more discussion was needed. "It is a serious, long, difficult and tiring process," he said.

He said he hoped and believed "that we will be able to work on ... implementation and, above all, the implementation of previously reached agreements."

Vucic has insisted Kosovo establish an association of Serb-majority municipalities, as agreed by a previous Kosovo government.

Leaders of Kosovo's ethnic-Albanian majority argue such a body would give Belgrade an outsize influence in their country while Serbs say it is needed to protect their rights.

Kosovo's top court ruled the last association plan violated the constitution. Kurti has been under Western pressure to come up with a new solution that will not fall foul of the courts.

That pressure is part of a broader international effort to get Vucic and Kurti to accept the deal.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni wrote a joint letter to both leaders urging them to sign the pact.

The top U.S. diplomat for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, was in Brussels on Monday to push for an agreement.

But even if Vucic and Kurti finalise the current deal, entitled the "Agreement on the path to normalisation between Kosovo and Serbia", it will not be the end of the story.

As the text of the document makes clear, the ultimate aim is to reach "a legally binding agreement on comprehensive normalization of their relations" further down the line.

(Reporting by Andrew Gray in Brussels, Aleksandar Vasovic in Belgrade and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Stephen Coates)