U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton urged Serbia and its former province of Kosovo to settle their differences, more than a decade after NATO launched airstrikes on Serbia to halt violence against Kosovo’s ethnic Albanians.

Ms. Clinton made the call in the Serbian capital of Belgrade, the second stop on a three-nation tour of the Balkans aimed at pressing for reconciliation and reform in the region still politically splintered following the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the bloody civil wars that followed.

Ms. Clinton said rapprochement between Serbia and Kosovo, combined with Serbian political reform, would put Serbia on the path to European Union membership, a role that it could use to anchor stability in south-eastern Europe.

“That dialogue can and will benefit people in Kosovo and Serbia by addressing practical, day-to-day issues and the long-term relationship between you,” she said after meeting with Serbian President Boris Tadic.

“It will also have a positive impact on the relationship between Serbia, your neighbours, Europe and the United States.”

Mr. Tadic said he is ready for talks, called for last month by the UN Security Council. But leaders in Kosovo, where Ms. Clinton will visit tomorrow, have sought a delay, saying negotiations would be more productive after elections expected early next year.

Although Mr. Tadic stressed he wants the talks to begin “as soon as possible,” he also insisted that Serbia would never accept Kosovo’s 2008 secession, which has been recognised by most of the countries of the European Union and ruled legal by the International Court of Justice in July.

“Serbia is not going to recognise the independence of Kosovo,” Mr. Tadic said, standing beside Ms. Clinton, whose husband’s administration was the driving force behind the NATO bombings of Belgrade and other Serb cities in 1999.

“However, we respect the rights of the Albanian people and, by respecting Albanian rights, we defend our own rights in Kosovo.”

Ms. Clinton praised Mr. Tadic for his commitment to reform and human rights, his promise to work toward European integration and his support for the international court that is prosecuting former officials for war crimes committed in the 1990s. But Clinton said Serbia needed to go further, and candidly allowed that Washington and Belgrade would likely never see eye-to-eye on Kosovo.

“There are areas, as the president said, where we will not agree and foremost among them is Kosovo,” she said.

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