Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti (center) arrives for talks with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic and mediators at North Macedonia's lakeside resort of Ohrid on March 18.
Kosovo Prime Minister Albin Kurti and Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic are meeting on March 18 for talks mediated by the European Union on implementing a deal to normalize bilateral ties.
The two leaders will hold separate meetings with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell before a three-way session and a news conference expected later in the day.
The U.S. special envoy for the Western Balkans, Gabriel Escobar, is attending the meeting as an observer.
"I am optimistic," Kurti said ahead of the meetings, taking place in the lakeside town of Ohrid in North Macedonia.
"I came here with a good aim, with a good will and with trust that what was agreed before...will continue here through the talks for the implementation plan, and in this way have a final deal on the normalization."
"This is the time for the leaders of Kosovo, Serbia, and of the entire Western Balkans to show courage and to demonstrate shared responsibility for the success of the EU accession process of the region," said Borrell.
He said the talks will focus on how to implement the EU plan that calls for the two countries to maintain good neighborly relations and recognize each other's official documents and national symbols. If implemented, it would prevent Belgrade from blocking Kosovo's attempts to seek membership in the United Nations and other international organizations.
Although tentatively agreeing on the EU plan reached last month, Vucic appeared to backtrack on some of its points after pressure from far-right groups which consider Kosovo the cradle of the Serbian state and Orthodox religion.
Vucic said on March 16 that he "won't sign anything" at the Ohrid meeting and earlier pledged never to recognize Kosovo or allow its UN membership.
On the other hand, Kurti said the implementation of what was already agreed should be the focus of the Ohrid talks.
"I'm an optimist but it is not up to me whether this will succeed or not," Kurti said. "I offered to sign the European proposal (at the last meeting in Brussels) but the other side was not ready and refused."
Thousands of far-right Serbian supporters, chanting "Treason, treason," marched in downtown Belgrade on the evening of March 17 demanding Vucic reject the latest EU plan. They carried a large banner reading "No to capitulation" and called for the Serbian president's resignation if he signs the plan.
Kosovo is a majority ethnic Albanian former Serbian province. Kosovo declared independence in 2008, but Serbia still claims it as its territory.