Kosovo official says Serbia deal must include recognition

A senior Kosovo official said on Tuesday any agreement on normalizing relations with Serbia must include the country's recognition by Belgrade and its admission to the United Nations.

Deputy Prime Minister Enver Hoxhaj said during a conference in Slovenia that a "very complex process" lies ahead in the European Union-mediated negotiations that aim to solve a long standing dispute between the former war foes.

Serbia has refused to accept Kosovo's 2008 declaration of independence that came after NATO intervened in the 1998-99 war to stop an onslaught by then-Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic against Kosovo ethnic Albanian separatists.

Around 100 countries have recognized Kosovo's statehood, including the United States and most EU nations. But Russia has backed Serbia's claim on Kosovo and blocked its entry into the U.N.

Hopes have been raised recently that a deal could be close after officials from Serbia and Kosovo suggested they could swap territories as part of the solution.

"We can sign a deal which includes Kosovo recognition, we cannot sign any other deal," Hoxhaj insisted. "Solution for Kosovo (problem) is the Security Council in New York."

Hoxhaj also criticized Serbia's President Aleksandar Vucic, a former ultranationalist who now says he wants to reach a lasting settlement with Kosovo. Hoxaj accused Vucic of "glorifying" Milosevic during last weekend's visit to Serb-populated regions in Kosovo.

Vucic there called in a keynote speech for peace and reconciliation with the Albanians in Kosovo but also angered Balkan neighbors when he referred to Milosevic's as "great Serbian leader" whose results were "very poor."

Hoxhaj said Vucic is "the last man in Serbia whom we (would) trust but we are going to do everything to get a deal."

Serbia and Kosovo must improve relations to advance toward EU membership.