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BELGRADE (Serbia), August 14 (SeeNews) - The governments of France, Germany, Italy, Britain and the United States said that Serbia and Kosovo need to remove all obstacles for the full normalisation of their relations.
The Big Four of Western Europe and the US, known as the NATO Quint, underline that the status quo between the two Balkan states prevents their progress towards the European Union and is not sustainable, the five governments said in a joint statement on Tuesday.
"Therefore, we call on Kosovo and Serbia to restart the EU-led Dialogue with urgency and ask that both parties avoid actions that will hinder a final agreement, which is necessary for both countries to achieve greater Euro-Atlantic integration and its accompanying benefits."
The five governments pointed out they are ready to step up their support in the dialogue but only after they see the willingness of Belgrade and Pristina to remove obstacles and resume discussions. For Kosovo, this means suspending the tariffs imposed on Serbia, while for Serbia, it means suspending the de-recognition campaign against Kosovo.
"After years of stagnation, the time has come to finally end the conflicts of the 1990s and provide a secure and prosperous future for the people of Kosovo and Serbia by negotiating in good faith an agreement that both sides can support," the five governments said.
"We stand ready to assist in any way possible," they added.
The EU-facilitated talks for normalisation of relations between Belgrade and Pristina began in March 2011. Serbia claims Kosovo as its southern province under UN administration, and does not recognise its independence. Kosovo considers Serbia as a neighboring state.
The progress in the talks deteriorated at the end of last year after the government in Pristina increased in November the import tariffs on all goods produced in Serbia and Bosnia to 100% from the previous 10%, saying this aims to protect Kosovo's sovereignty and interests. The scope of the new import tariffs was expanded in December to include products manufactured under international brands in Serbia and Bosnia.
Serb trade minister Rasim Ljajic said last week that Serbia has suffered a 280.8 million euro ($313 million) damage so far from the increase of Kosovo's import tariffs.
The tariffs may cost Serbia 0.8% of its annual gross domestic product (GDP) if none of the Serbian exporters to Kosovo find an alternative destination for its products, Ljajic has said.
Kosovo, considered to be a potential candidate for EU membership by the European Commission, unilaterally declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and has so far been recognised by more than half of the 193 UN member states. Serbia and Bosnia both do not recognise the independence of Kosovo.
Serbia started accession talks with the EU in January 2014 but the EU has reiterated many times that the signing of a comprehensive and legally binding normalisation agreement on all open issues between Belgrade and Pristina is a must condition for their advance to membership as well as for stability and peace in region.