BRUSSELS — Serbia's chances of speeding up its EU entry appeared a shade brighter Friday with several European foreign ministers pledging to plead Belgrade's case following an agreement to talk with breakaway Kosovo.
UN foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said no date had yet been set for the talks, which would take place in Brussels. "We've said that we'll facilitate."
Asked at what level, she said: "It's for them to decide."
"Both are committed to starting a conversation", she added.
Joining colleagues from the 27-nation bloc for two days of informal talks, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said he expected to see the European Union agree this year to Serbia applying for membership.
Asked by journalists if that could happen this year, Bildt said "of course it should" and "I think it will."
German counterpart Guido Westerwelle said he was "very satisfied" by the rapprochement between Belgrade and Pristina.
"The way is now open for direct talks between Serbia and Kosovo," he said, adding that this was "a very good basis for the transmission of the membership request to the Commission."
Miguel Angel Moratinos, Spain's foreign minister, said "Serbia has demonstrated its commitment to Europe. We can no longer delay."
But France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner was less upbeat.
"Many candidates are lined up in the waiting-list, but France was very clear, we believe Serbia and Kosovo must integrate into the EU.
"Let's wait a little, let's not mix everything up. It's a very important step. We wanted the dialogue to start between Serbia and Kosovo."
A joint Serbian-EU resolution approved Thursday at the UN said dialogue between Serbia and its breakaway southern province would "promote cooperation, achieve progress on the path to the European Union and improve the lives of the people."
The text also hailed the readiness of the European Union to facilitate dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo.
For the first time since Kosovo proclaimed independence on February 17, 2008, Belgrade has said it was ready to talk with Pristina without bringing up the question of status.