'Serbia must solve issues with Kosovo on EU path'

By Talha Ozturk

BELGRADE, Serbia (AA) – Austria fully supports Serbia's path to the European Union, but first it must resolve its issues with Kosovo, said Austria’s president on Wednesday, on a two-day visit to the capital Belgrade.

"The Union must insist that open bilateral issues, border issues [with Kosovo] must be clarified," said Alexander Van der Bellen at a joint press conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic.

Van der Bellen, whose country currently holds the EU's rotating presidency, added that there is a prevailing opinion in the EU that these issues have to be overcome and he believes Vucic is working hard to resolve them.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade insists the country remains part of Serbia. Since then tensions have remained high between Kosovo’s ethnic-Albanian majority and a small Serb minority in the north.

Kosovo is recognized by over 100 countries, including Turkey, U.S., Britain, France, and Germany.

"If there is a conciliatory solution between the two sides, then the European Union, the United States, and all the direct and indirect participants will be very happy to examine this peaceful and agreeable solution," said Van der Bellen.

He added that Serbia is in the leading position among candidates for EU membership.

"It is quite clear and I think it is obvious that Austria fully supports the path of Serbia to the EU, and maybe this visit is small proof of that," said Van der Bellen.

Vucic, for his part, said he had told Bellen that Serbia is always ready to talk with Kosovo and hold an open dialogue on key issues, but repeated that a compromise solution is needed.

The two presidents are set to attend a Serbian-Austrian Business Forum, and Van der Bellen will meet with Serbian Prime Minister Ana Brnabic.

On day two of the visit, Van der Bellen and Vucic will take part in the eighth Belgrade Security Forum.

This is the third meeting of the two presidents this year.