Regional collaboration, resolving the Kosovo situation and moving forward on EU path are the top priorities for the Serbian president.
By Ivana Jovanovic for Southeast European Times in Belgrade -- 13/01/17
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic spoke to SETimes and major international news outlets. [Nada Bozic/SETimes]
Serbia President Tomislav Nikolic said building stronger relationships with neighbouring countries is one on his top priorities, but the chief executive promised that Belgrade will never recognise Kosovo's independence despite international pressure to do so.
"I am truly convinced that establishment of stability and best possible relation among SEE states is not only something which is requested from us, but that is the need of all these states in order to achieve some economic prosperity, overcome global economic crises impacts and provide a better life to their citizens," Nikolic said Wednesday (January 16th) in a series of interviews with SETimes and major international news outlets.
But when it comes to Kosovo, which declared independence four years ago and has been recognised by more than 100 countries, Nikolic said that Serbia's position is clear.
"Serbia would never recognize Kosovo," Nikolic said.
It is the Kosovo issue that is perhaps the biggest impediment to Serbia's goal of joining the EU. Serbia is seeking a date for starting negotiations with the EU, and recently approving a border management agreement that has both sides sharing the management of checkpoints that separate them.
The Serbian parliament also approved a platform on Sunday that essentially acknowledges Kosovo's integrity and calls for Serbia to "strive to find a compromise and comprehensive solution for Kosovo-Metohija through dialogue. The solution must be a strong foundation for building durable peace and securing full safety for all residents of the southern Serbian province."
Nikolic, who met with reporters from The Associated Press, Reuters, the BBC, Al-Jazeera as well as SETimes on Wednesday, said it would be a breach of Serbia's constitution to recognise Kosovo as independent.
He said Serbia is also ready to improve its relationship with Bosnia and Herzegovina and Croatia, both of which have had issues with Belgrade since Nikolic won the presidency last year.
"There are, still, numerous difficulties and a lot of work is in front of us but I am pretty sure that if we would be persistent and if we would give joint efforts, we will be able to resolve any problem which is going to get in our way," he said.
Serbia and Croatia have been at odds of late after the Hague tribunal acquitted Croatian General Ante Gotovina in September of war crimes dating back to 1995.
Following the acquittal, Croatia President Ivo Josipovic called Gotovina a hero and suggested he could have a place in his government. But on Wednesday, Nikolic told reporters that relations with Croatia could have been improved had he and Josipovic met before the prime ministers of the two countries.
Nikolic also said he was open to meeting with Bakir Izetbegovic, the Bosniak member of the BiH three-member presidency. Nikolic revived tensions in BiH last spring by denying that the deaths of 8,000 civilians in 1995 in Srebrenica were genocide.
Nikolic said he plans to go to Montenegro on Friday and plans to focus on making sure that representatives of the Serb community are involved in decisions and not always part of the opposition.
He also announced a visit to Turkey early in February, when he will present a proposal for Turkish investments in Serbia.
Nikolic said Serbia will remain on the path toward the EU. He told SETimes that Serbia is aware that it has more conditions to accomplish from the European Council agenda, but also that it is aware that joining the EU is something good which will be beneficial to its citizens.
"I expect that Serbia will join EU together with Kosovo as an integral part of its territory. And, later on, EU would find a way how to finance it but I do expect that Serbia is going to enter EU with its south province in its composition," Nikolic told SETimes.