(Bloomberg) -- Serbia and Kosovo were told to dial back mounting tensions during a meeting with the leaders of Germany, France and Italy on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Brussels.
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But the meeting Thursday failed to produce a breakthrough on a plan to give Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs a degree of autonomy, a key step toward normalization of relations between the two countries.
Kosovar Prime Minister Albin Kurti was prepared to sign the deal, according to his spokesperson, who added that Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic refused.
Vucic, for his part, said that Serbia could accept the deal. “It’s a very good base,” he told reporters, “but we have reservations about Kosovo’s membership in the UN and Kosovo’s independence.”
The 40-minute exchange was the highest-level meeting between the Balkan rivals and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
Vucic and Kurti pressed ahead with EU-mediated talks after Scholz, Macron and Meloni urged them to set aside differences and move toward normalization as the main path to join the bloc, according to an EU official close to the meeting who spoke on condition of anonymity.
A breakthrough has eluded EU and US diplomats, who have struggled to push forward a plan regarding treatment of Kosovo’s ethnic Serbs, who constitute a majority in the country’s north. Serbia and Kosovo both aspire to join the 27-member bloc, which has made normalization between the Balkan neighbors the key condition for accession.
Tensions have soared in the last month after a dramatic daylong shootout in northern Kosovo between Serb militants and Kosovo police. The violence, which killed four including a Kosovar policeman, was the worst in almost two decades.
Kosovo, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, unilaterally seceded from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a brutal Serbian offensive that was ended by NATO strikes against Serbian targets. Serbia has refused to recognize an independent Kosovo, which it regards as the historic cradle of the Orthodox nation.
A looming issue over diplomatic efforts has been the fate of ethnic Serbs in Kosovo, whose leaders have been supported by the government in Belgrade.
--With assistance from Gresa Kraja and Misha Savic.
(Updates with failure to clinch deal, Vucic remarks starting in second paragraph)
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