Serbia should not sign Kosovo accord: deputy PM

Serbia should refuse to sign an EU-brokered proposal on easing tensions with Kosovo, but continue talks with Pristina, Serbian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic said Monday.

"Our suggestion to the government of Serbia is that... we do not sign what does not take into consideration even the minimum of our national interests," Vucic told reporters after a meeting of his SNS party leadership.

A deal with Kosovo is the key Brussels-set condition for Serbia if it wants to start accession talks for EU membership later this year. A refusal could delay Serbia's integration into the EU for an indefinite period.

However, the SNS, which is the senior partner in the ruling coalition in Belgrade, believes that "the government should propose the urgent and immediate continuation of talks" with Kosovo, Vucic said.

The nationalist conservative SNS are former radicals turned pro-European, even though they oppose Kosovo's independence like most Serb parties.

The Serbian government was to meet later on Monday to give a final response to EU-sponsored talks with Kosovo, following last week's meeting in Brussels in which Belgrade and Pristina failed to find common ground on how to defuse their longstanding tensions.

Both sides are expected to respond to EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton -- who has chaired the eight rounds of talks between the Serbian and Kosovo delegations -- by Tuesday.

Serbia and Kosovo have been under pressure from Brussels to strike a deal before the issue of a European Commission report next week.

The April 16 report, to be forwarded to EU leaders to evaluate at a late June summit, is crucial to paving the way for Serbia to join the EU, as the beginning of the talks on membership are contingent on the improvement of relations with its former province.

In Brussels, Ashton's spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic declined to comment Vucic's statement.

"We are waiting for the official decision from Serbia and Kosovo. Then we will take it from there," Kocijancic told reporters.

Asked if the dialogue can continue, Kocijancic replied that "we need first to see the response and then decide how to take it forward."

Vucic, who took part in the last round of talks, said in an interview Sunday that "our message must be clear, that we want an agreement and we want an accord."

However, he said at the April 2 talks "eight points were read to us, six were acceptable for Belgrade, but two were not."

The proposal "can and should be improved", Nikolic said, after meeting leaders of parliamentary political parties Sunday.

The influential Serbian Orthodox Church has called on the Belgrade leadership to reject the deal with Pristina.

The main stumbling block in the talks, which got under way late last year, has been the future of the Serb minority living in Kosovo, especially the north, since it declared independence.

Majority ethnic Albanian Kosovo has since then won recognition from around 100 countries, including the United States and most EU member states.

Serbia and the about 40,000 Serbs living in northern Kosovo continue to reject Pristina's declaration of independence.

Both sides earlier agreed to establish an association of Serb municipalities, but Kosovo refuses to grant it the executive and judicial powers demanded by Serbia.