Serbia and Kosovo's prime ministers sparred at the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday over the future of Kosovo, displaying bitter divisions between the rivals despite their support for European Union-brokered technical talks that are meant to promote cooperation.
Serbia's Prime Minister Ivica Dacic said his country "will never, under any circumstances, implicitly or explicitly, recognize the unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo's ethnic Albanian authorities."
Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci countered that Kosovo is a state recognized by nearly half the U.N.'s 193 members and its territorial integrity "will never be put into question."
Kosovo came under U.N. and NATO administration after a 1999 NATO-led air war halted former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in Kosovo, a province of Serbia. But the Security Council resolution that established the interim U.N. administration left Kosovo's final status in question.
Kosovo's predominantly ethnic Albanian leadership declared independence from Serbia in February 2008, with strong backing from the United States and major EU nations. But the Serbian government, strongly supported by Russia, insists that Kosovo is still legally bound by the Security Council resolution, and the U.N. — at Moscow's insistence — still retains overall authority in Kosovo, though many responsibilities were transferred to the EU and a EU peacekeeping force.
The EU-led talks reached agreement in seven areas but have been on hold for several months because of Serbia's recent elections, and each side accused the other of failing to implement all provisions.
Kosovo's Thaci said Serbia has not signed a protocol on managing the Serbia-Kosovo border and refuses to implement an agreement on regional cooperation.
"The credibility of this technical dialogue is at stake and we call upon Serbia to deliver what we have agreed to during this process," he said.
Serbia's Dacic said "the new Serbian authorities intend to implement all the agreements reached so far, insisting at the same time that Pristina must do so as well."
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's latest report on Kosovo circulated Tuesday said that differing interpretations by the two sides on the cooperation agreement led to problems in a number of regional meetings.
Dacic said Serbia's position is that "Kosovo cannot be allowed to accede to any international organization in which membership is reserved for sovereign states."
While the EU-led technical talks should continue, he said, they are "not a panacea" and he urged high-level negotiations on all outstanding issues.
A 25-nation group supporting Kosovo's independence and supervising its democratic progress announced in July that it will end oversight of Kosovo in September.
The move reflected confidence that Kosovo's leadership could reduce tensions between majority ethnic Albanians and minority Serbs, but international military and police units will still patrol Kosovo to lower the risk of ethnic violence.
Kosovo's Thaci called the decision an "enormous milestone" which reflects confidence "that Kosovo, with the support of its current leadership and its people, will successfully join the European Union in the coming years."
But Dacic said "It is the view of Serbia that the only institution of indisputable and universal legitimacy authorized to make the sort of changes the report indicates are taking place is the Security Council."