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NATO Forces 'Ready' If Kosovo-Serbia Tensions Boil Over.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrive for a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on August 17.

Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic (left) and NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg arrive for a media conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels on August 17.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance's peacekeeping troops are ready to step in if tensions between Kosovo and Serbia rise as the two Balkan neighbors prepare for further European Union-facilitated talks to normalize relations.

"While the situation on the ground has improved, it is the responsibility of all parties -- particularly officials from Belgrade and Pristina -- to prevent escalation again," Stoltenberg told a joint news conference with Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic in Brussels on August 17, the eve of a new round of talks between the two countries.

"I call on all sides to show restraint and to avoid violence. NATO continues to monitor closely the situation on the ground. Our KFOR peacekeeping mission remains focused on its UN mandate. Should stability be jeopardized, KFOR stands ready to intervene," he said.

Kosovo and Serbia have engaged in the EU-led dialogue since 2011, aiming to reach a comprehensive and legally binding agreement on the normalization of relations.

Vucic said he expected "difficult" talks with his Kosovar counterpart, Albin Kurti, as the two "do not agree almost on anything."

"We have our history, which is not an easy one, which is not a simple one. But we do want to strengthen further cooperation both for...NATO and we want to avoid any kind of possibility of escalation or conflict," Vucic said.

In June, the two sides agreed to adopt a road map for the implementation of energy agreements within the EU-led dialogue.

Moscow's invasion of Ukraine has added to calls to bring not only Kosovo and Serbia, but also Montenegro, Albania, North Macedonia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina closer to the EU through full membership or some alternative.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Serbia doesn't recognize it as independent, while most EU countries do.

Normalizing bilateral relations is seen as crucial to both countries bids to join the bloc.

EU leaders stopped short of offering a concrete timetable for membership to the six Western Balkans candidates at a summit in Slovenia in October, only reiterating the bloc's "commitment to the enlargement process."

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