The meeting of Serbia's Tomislav Nikolić and Kosovo's Atifete Jahjaga in Brussels on 6 February included the usual presentation of conflicting opinions and interpretations on the status of Kosovo.
Mediated by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the meeting was considered a working session for Belgrade, while Pristina interpreted the encounter as a meeting between the presidents of two independent states.
Nikolić underscored that Serbia would not recognise Kosovo as an independent state, whereas Jahjaga was adamant that Kosovo is an independent state, which, as she put it, should have neighbourly relations with Serbia.
The Serbian president said the meeting “did not provide steps towards overcoming the biggest obstacle – the status of Kosovo,” and told Jahjaga that the dialogue could not lead to a joint solution if she continued to insist on Kosovo’s independence.
“Kosovo cannot be an independent state and I don’t see why other solutions shouldn’t be discussed,” said Nikolić.
Nikolić added that he had come to the meeting in Brussels to make it clear that, thanks to its parliamentary resolution, Serbia was ready to accept certain aspects of the Pristina regional status.
He explained that in the resolution Serbia had opted, “somewhat against its Constitution, to recognise the special characteristics of Kosovo and Metohija – the local independent judiciary, presidency, government and parliament, but also the existence of the Serb and Roma communities with a certain level of autonomy.”
Asked how she viewed Nikolić’s statement that Kosovo could not be recognised as an independent state, Jahjaga said that “nothing new was heard from Nikolić that reflects his previous positions as a radical nationalist, which had caused trouble for Kosovo and the entire region.”
Answering to the press about the possibility of northern Kosovo gaining autonomy, Jahjaga said there could be no autonomy for the north or in Kosovo in general, because that would mean the communities would be grouped ethnically.
Analysts praised the meeting as the first step, noting it had brought Serbia closer to getting a date for beginning accession talks with the EU. However, some stressed that such meetings also carry a certain risk, as they are treated as the de facto recognition of Kosovo.
Former Serbian ambassador to Germany Ognjen Pribićević said that Serbian government representatives and Prime Minister Ivica Dačić would in the next few days face numerous questions from the international community about Nikolić’s position on the continuation of the dialogue.
Dačić, who was visiting Washington earlier in the week, said the meeting of Nikolić and Jahjaga in Brussels was an important step in the dialogue, adding that the current government has a common policy and aims to take active part in solving the Kosovo problem for the sake of protecting its interests.
Nikolić said in Brussels he had full confidence in the government and Dačić, whose credibility on the domestic scene has been tarnished by claims of contacts with Rodoljub Radulović, a member of Darko Šarić’s drug gang. This is believed to be the reason for why the opposition is calling for snap elections.
Nearly all dailies in Pristina are saying that Nikolić and Jahjaga did not achieve any substantial results at the meeting in Brussels, while Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha described the meeting as “a good step towards strengthening Kosovo’s statehood.”
Dačić said the dialogue would resume in Brussels on 19 and 20 February. The agenda will include the issue of institutions in northern Kosovo, which Dačić called “essential,” while Ashton said “the coming weeks will be critical” in the dialogue.
In December 2012, the European Council asked Serbia to make “irreversible progress towards delivering structures in the north, which meet the security and justice needs of the local population in a transparent and cooperative manner, and in a way that ensures the functionality of a single institutional and administrative set up within Kosovo.”
Pristina has so far refused to discuss solutions for the Serb-populated north, whereas Belgrade in its platform and resolution on Kosovo envisaged autonomy for the Serbs in Kosovo and the option of institutionally protecting their interests.
Progress in resolving concrete issues in the relations between Belgrade and Pristina is also a condition for Serbia and Kosovo’s progress en route to EU membership.