- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 1, 2010

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said Wednesday that his country continues to reject Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence, even as the International Court of Justice prepares to rule on the matter.

“The UDI - the unilateral declaration of independence - is something that Serbia is not going to accept,” Mr. Jeremic told a small group of reporters at the Serbian Embassy.

“This is the truth - and it’s a truth that it is not going to change. We’re a democratic country, and our position on the UDI is based on our constitution, it’s based on the binding decisions of the Serbian national parliament, and it is supported by the vast majority of our citizens inside a democratic system,” he said.

The International Court of Justice could issue its advisory opinion as early as late July, and the Serbs, who requested the court’s involvement, have much riding on the outcome.

Since Kosovo divorced itself from Serbia in February 2008, after almost nine years under U.N. receivership, Mr. Jeremic and others have sought with limited success to convince the world that the breakaway province remains a rightful part of Serbia.

The Republic of Kosovo has gained recognition from 69 U.N. member states, including the U.S. and most other Western nations. But Serbia has enlisted support from countries with strong secessionist movements - such as Russia, China, and Spain - who fear that Kosovo could set a dangerous precedent.

With a population of 1.8 million, Kosovo is the seventh state to emerge from the rubble of the former Yugoslavia.

At the morning roundtable briefing, the 34-year-old foreign minister also chastised the European Union for his country’s stalled membership application.

“They say things like, ‘We don’t want another Cyprus in the European Union,’ and then they say, ‘We don’t another Bulgaria and Romania,’ because some people consider Romania and Bulgaria membership as somewhat premature, and they’re having problems as a result of that, and the latest ‘We don’t want another …’ thing refers to Greece because of the economic fallout,” said a visibly exercised Mr. Jeremic, whose party campaigned on a platform of European integration.

“What is the common denominator between the four [countries]?” he said, describing one theory gaining steam in Serbia. “They’re all Orthodox.”

But observers say the primary obstacle to EU membership is far simpler.

“You have to meet the requirements of the club you want to join, and the club you want to join has a requirement that you have ‘good neighborly relations,’ ” said Daniel Serwer, a former U.S. diplomatic official in the Balkans.

“The Serb elite understands perfectly well that it has to settle the Kosovo issue - and settle it pretty soon - if it wants to get into the EU.”