France says Kosovo deal needed for Serbia's EU membership

July 15, 2007 - 0:0

BELGRADE (AFP) -- French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said that Serbia will have to make an agreement over Kosovo before it can join the European Union.

"It is not possible to join the EU with ethnic conflicts and religious disputes," Kouchner, who was the first UN administrator in Kosovo, said after talks in Belgrade with Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic. "France has always been favorable to Serbia coming into the European Union but there are a certain number of formalities to accomplish. There is the Kosovo problem to be settled first." France backs a UN plan for the ethnic Albanian-dominated Serbian province to get UN-supervised independence. Serbia, backed by Russia, strongly opposes the proposal. When asked if France could unilaterally recognize Kosovo, Kouchner said: "This possibility exists but France would be very reluctant to do this." Intense talks are being held at the UN Security Council on the future of Kosovo which has been administered by the United Nations since 1999. Kouchner ran the province from 1999 to late 2000. Kouchner and Jeremic expressed support for new negotiations. The Serbian minister said he hoped they would be "substantial, that they will lead to a compromise that is acceptable to all the parties and that the solution will bring stability to the region." Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said Wednesday that further talks, following up on failed negotiations in Vienna in 2006, would serve no purpose. Western powers on the UN Security Council are seeking to coax Russia into a compromise by no longer calling for automatic independence for Kosovo at the end of any new talks between Belgrade and province's separatist leadership. U.S. Ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad told reporters Wednesday that Britain, France and the United States had reached agreement on a revised Security Council resolution and were discussing it with Russia. Russia threatened to veto any solution that is not acceptable to its ally Serbia. Russia opposed an earlier draft which called for a 120-day pause in determining the future of Kosovo to allow for further talks. The revised text, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, dropped any automatic path to the supervised independence advocated by UN mediator Martti Ahtisaari at the end of the 120-day period. Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, meanwhile said Moscow's opposition to Kosovo's independence was doing it more harm than good. "It's too small an issue for Russia to be able to underline its power by itself. Russia is not ... strengthening its international position, but on the contrary weakening it," he was quoted as saying in the Finnish daily Laensi-Savo on Thursday. Ahtisaari has drawn up a proposal to hand Kosovo's increasingly impatient ethnic Albanian majority internationally supervised independence, giving the Serbian province its own constitution, flag and anthem. Russia has rejected his plans as a violation of Serbia's territorial integrity -- something which threatens to scupper progress in securing an agreement at the United Nations Security Council. Kouchner is also to meet Serbia's President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica before going to Kosovo on Friday in a bid to persuade its leaders to join new talks. -----------Serbia's Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic (R) shakes hands with his French counterpart Bernard Kouchner during their meeting in Belgrade