Serbia has never accepted former province Kosovo's 2008 secession, though dozens of other nations have. Now that Kosovo and Serbia are aiming for a peace deal that could ease their path to European Union membership, Kosovo is under pressure to agree to virtual self-rule for the ethnic Serbs who dominate its northern territory and who essentially boycott the authority of the ethnic Albanian-dominated government in Pristina.
Although Kosovo is agreeable to allowing elected local assemblies in the Serb-dominated area, it does not want to give such bodies executive powers that could snub federal rule.
In a phone conversation Tuesday with U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, Kosovo's prime minister, Hashim Thaci, urged the Americans to back Kosovo's refusal to grant the Serb minority rights "that would undermine the constitution and internal order." Thaci told Burns he believes Kosovo has reached the limits of its flexibility, the prime minister's office said in a statement Wednesday.
Through EU-mediated talks, Kosovo and Serbia are inching closer to a deal that could resolve their differences. If a deal is reached by summer, Serbia would be given a date for the start of accession talks, while Kosovo would enter an agreement with the EU, seen as the first step towards eventual membership.
Serbia is expected to suspend the work of its police and intelligence forces that are discreetly present in Kosovo's Serb-heavy north, while encouraging them to nominally come under Kosovo rule.
The talks are to continue early March in Brussels and will again be overseen by the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.
Kosovo's declaration of independence was backed by the U.S. and most EU nations. Five EU members, including Spain and Greece, refuse to recognize Kosovo as a state because they fear it would encourage separatist movements in their countries.