Serbia Won’t Take U.S. Pressure on Kosovo, President Says

Serbian President Tomislav Nikolic said he won’t accept any pressure from the U.S. to make more concessions to normalize relations with Kosovo so it can begin talks to join the European Union.

Serbia “has made great progress and is open to doing even more” and “rightfully expects to start talks with the EU,” Nikolic said in Belgrade before a meeting tomorrow with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden in Rome, where both will attend the inauguration Mass of Pope Francis. Serb opposition leaders have accused the EU and U.S. of using entry to the bloc as a tool to pressure the country into giving more ground on Kosovo.

“The meeting with Biden comes at the U.S.’s request,” Nikolic told reporters today after meeting with EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule. “I would treat any pressure as an indecent form of discussion.”

Fule is in Belgrade to meet with Serbian leaders and will travel to Kosovo’s capital of Pristina as part of his Balkan tour. It comes less than a month before EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is due to report on Belgrade’s bid to improve Kosovo ties that will decide whether Serbia gets a start date for EU entry talks.

“I know the question on your mind at this moment is will Serbia really get the date for starting the negotiations in June” to join the EU, Fule said. “The answer depends on the efforts in delivering on reforms and on the one key priority: progress toward a visible and sustainable improvement of relations with Kosovo.”

Kosovo Pressure

Serbia has asked for international diplomatic pressure on Kosovo to make concessions. Premiers Ivica Dacic and Hashim Thaci of Kosovo will meet in Brussels March 20 for a new round of EU-mediated talks. Serbs see Kosovo as the cultural cradle of their nation and reject its independence, unilaterally declared in 2008. Kosovo has been recognized by 98 United Nations members, including 22 of 27 EU states.

“Obviously, we are facing the weeks when we will have to make very important and major political decisions,” Dacic told reporters in Belgrade after meeting with Fule, adding that Belgrade is also hosting a delegation of Germany’s Bundestag “which has its own conditions for Serbia to get a date for the start of talks.

Granting Rights

Serbia wants Thaci to grant Serbs in Kosovo ‘‘political and other rights’’ including in education, the judiciary and police in Serbian-dominated municipalities.

To obtain a date for EU entry talks, Fule said Serbia must show improvements on the judiciary, fighting corruption and discrimination, media freedom and helping vulnerable groups.

The International Monetary Fund said today it agreed with Kosovo to release a 5 million-euro ($6.5 million) tranche of a standby loan as the Balkan nation’s economy slows amid the debt crisis in Europe.

The IMF’s Executive Board will probably consider approving the package in April, the Washington-based lender said today in a statement. Kosovo officials intend to treat the arrangement as a precautionary loan for 2013, meaning they don’t plan on drawing the funds, according to the statement.

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