By Agnes Szucs
BRUSSELS (AA) - NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said on Wednesday that the alliance stands ready to prevent an escalation between Kosovo and Serbia over recent border tensions.
Stoltenberg was speaking at a joint news conference following his meeting with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic. He will also meet Kosovo’s Prime Minister Albin Kurti later in the day.
Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo increased earlier this month because of Kosovo’s planned implementation of a new law making it mandatory for everyone, including Serbs living in Kosovo, to have a Kosovo ID card and license plate.
Kosovo, however, has delayed the new measures until Sept. 1.
Vucic and Kurti will holds talks with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, and the bloc's special representative for Kosovo-Serbia dialogue, Miroslav Lajcak, on Thursday.
Stoltenberg said “it is the responsibility of all parties, particularly the officials from Belgrade and Pristina, to prevent escalation again,” and called on both sides to show restraint.
He said the NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo (KFOR) stands ready to intervene if “stability is jeopardized.”
“I will take any measures that are necessary to ensure a safe and secure environment and freedom of movement for all the people in Kosovo,” Stoltenberg asserted.
“Everything has to be done to prevent escalation,” he added.
Stoltenberg also called on the Serbian and Kosovar leaders to show flexibility and engage in a constructive talk at their upcoming meeting because the EU-facilitated Belgrade-Pristina dialogue is the right way to find a solution for both communities.
For his part, Vucic said he expected “difficult discussions” with his Kosovar counterpart since “we do not agree on almost anything.”
He stressed Serbia’s commitment to respect international law, including UN resolutions and the Brussels agreement on the principles of normalization of relations.
The Serbian leader also commended KFOR’s role in ensuring stability in the region and stressed that while keeping its neutrality, Serbia intends to strengthen its cooperation with NATO and avoid escalation.
Launched in 2011, the EU-led Belgrade-Pristina Dialogue aims to normalize relations between the Western Balkan neighbors.
The former Serbian province of Kosovo declared independence on Feb. 17, 2008, and is recognized by more than 100 countries. But Belgrade continues to see Kosovo as its own territory.
Mandated by the UN, the KFOR international peacekeeping mission has been operating in Kosovo since 1999.