Reuters. Serbia needs to continue talks with Kosovo on normalizing ties within the framework of the latest international peace plan in order to pursue a path towards European Union membership, President Aleksandar Vucic told parliament on Thursday (February 2).
"We are in a difficult and very delicate moment. From one side, we have to help our people in Kosovo and Metohija. From the other side, we have to avoid condemnation and punishment and on the third side, we must take care of our vital national interests," he told lawmakers.
Last month EU, U.S., German, French and Italian envoys met leaders from both countries to try to convince them to sign an 11-point deal meant to defuse tensions lingering since the 1998-99 conflict.
Vucic told parliament the envoys warned that if Serbia did not accept the proposal, its EU membership talks would be halted and access to pre-accession funds and investments denied.
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, a decade after a guerrilla uprising against Belgrade's repressive rule. Over the past decade, the two have been holding normalization talks under EU mediation, with a successful outcome key to realizing the aspirations of both to join the wealthy bloc.
Vucic described EU membership as "vital" for Serbia, and underlined the importance of having allies in a time of conflict, as he addressed lawmakers during a special parliament session to debate the plan.
Vucic's statement showed Belgrade is distancing itself from traditional ally Russia, which vetoed Kosovo's membership in the United Nations.
Western diplomats have often criticized Serbia for close ties with Russia and Belgrade's refusal to join the EU sanctions against Moscow.
Some opposition members objected Vucic's recent inflexions and displayed a banner accusing him of "betraying Kosovo."
Under the international plan, the two countries would have to open representative offices in each other's capitals and work on resolving outstanding issues.
Serbia would also not be required to recognize the independence of its former province, but would have to stop lobbying against Kosovo's membership in international bodies.
Vucic said that while the current plan offered Serbia few perks, talks must continue.
But he reiterated his opposition to seeing Kosovo joining international organisations, such as the UN.
"If it comes to Kosovo in the UN ... as the president of Serbia, the Constitution is scripture. Capitulation and surrender are not options. And I know what I'm going to do," he said.