TIRANA - Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani said on Tuesday that her country would submit an application for membership of the European Union by the end of the year, pledging commitment to Brussels- sponsored talks with Serbia to resolve outstanding differences.
"I will be announcing today here in front of all EU leaders: Kosovo will be submitting its application for EU membership by the end of this year," Osmani said upon arrival at an EU-Western Balkans summit in Tirana.
Five Western Balkan states - Albania, Bosnia, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia - are at different stages of an EU entry process. But Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, has yet to apply.
Belgrade and Pristina committed in 2013 to an EU-sponsored dialogue to resolve outstanding issues, but little progress has been made. Agreement with Kosovo remains one of the main pre-conditions for Serbia to join the EU.
"We believe that the dialogue that is led by the European Union and fully supported by the United States of America is the only way forward towards reaching a final agreement that is centred on mutual recognition," Osmani said.
Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic also expressed commitment to and EU-sponsored dialogue with Kosovo.
"But at the same time we have to protect our interest according to the constitution," Vucic said. Serbia's constitution considers Kosovo an integral part of Serbia.
Serbia lost control of Kosovo in 1999 after 11 weeks of NATO air strikes to halt the killing and expulsion of ethnic Albanians in a Serbian counter-insurgency.
Recently, tensions between Serbia and Kosovo flared when authorities in Kosovo moved to implement a decision to replace Serbian-issued car licence plates in regions where ethnic Serbs form the majority with the one issued by Kosovo authorities.
"We've always encouraged the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina, which has to take place in good faith for both sides," Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said.
"Unless this issue is resolved - and in order for it to be resolved both sides need to take a step back - it will be difficult to make the necessary progress regarding completing the integration of the Western Balkans in the European family," he said.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Fatos Bytyci in Tirana, Ingrid Melander and Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Robert Birsel)