European Union leaders, worried that Kosovo's push for independence could trigger instability in the Balkans, were set to offer Serbia a fast-track route to joining the bloc at a summit on Friday.
A day after signing a treaty to end a long institutional stalemate, the leaders switched focus to challenges posed by the Balkans -- a test of the EU's new hopes of strengthening its foreign policy clout -- and by globalisation and immigration.
The leaders were due to say that Serbia should be offered an accelerated path towards EU membership, once Belgrade meets the conditions to sign a first-level agreement on closer ties.
"It reiterated its confidence that progress on the road towards the EU, including candidate status, can be accelerated," a draft copy of the summit communique obtained by Reuters said.
It also said talks on the breakaway Serbian province had been exhausted, the status quo was untenable and a settlement of Kosovo's future status was essential for Balkan stability.
Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen called the draft statement "a major step in the right direction".
Belgian Foreign Minister Karel de Gucht pointed to the lessons of the 1990s Balkans wars, saying: "We have seen what happened in former Yugoslavia when the European Union did not take things in hand."
A handful of EU states -- Cyprus, Greece, Slovakia and Romania -- remain reluctant to recognise an independence declaration expected early next year.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana welcomed the announcement this week of a Serbian presidential election on Jan. 20. The election will give voters a say on whether Serbia should move closer to the EU or protest at its role in Kosovo.
"We are very pleased and support the decision ... calling for presidential elections in Serbia and as you know we are in a position in our minds that the final status of Kosovo has to be resolved," he told reporters.
- PUTIN IS ADAMANTLY OPPOSED TO KOSOVO'S INDEPENDENCE.
- AND TO DEPLOYMENT OF NMD IN EUROPE AND ANYWHERE NEAR RUSSIA.
- BUSH AND THE EU DON'T CARE - IT SEEMS.
- A CONFRONTATION LOOMS.
- PUTIN MIGHT GET SURROGATES IN SYRIA OR IRAN TO STAT SOMETHING - AS A DISTRACTION - BEFORE HE MAKES A MOVE.
- THIS MIGHT COME AFTER NATIONALISTS OPPOSED TO TAKING KOSOVO AWAY FROM SERBIA ARE ELECTED ON JANUARY 20 - PERHAPS THEY WILL REQUEST THE RUSSIAN ARMY HELP THEM GET RID OF THE EU/NATO FORCES?
- OFFERING SERBIA FAST-TRACK EU MEMBERSHIP IS A BRIBE TO PREVENT THIS.