BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — The prime ministers of Serbia and Albania pledged Monday to put their differences aside and focus on their mutual desire to join the European Union — but the detente between the Balkan rivals didn't even last until the end of their joint press conference.
Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama was in Belgrade on the first visit to Serbia by an Albanian premier in 68 years.
Relations between the two nations have been tense for decades mainly over Kosovo, an ethnic Albanian-dominated former Serbian province that declared independence in 2008. Serbia, which considers Kosovo the cradle of its statehood and religion, has never accepted its independence, although more than 100 other nations have.
Rama, at the press conference, said Serbia has to change its attitude.
Kosovo's independence "is a reality. The sooner it is recognized, the faster we can move on," Rama said, igniting a strong reaction from Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic.
"I did not expect this provocation," Vucic said angrily. "What does Albania have to do with Kosovo? Kosovo is not part of Albania and it will never be. The reality is that Kosovo is part of Serbia."
In an interview later with The Associated Press, Rama suggested that his counterpart had overreacted — saying that he would not consider it a provocation if Vucic were to express Serbia's stand during a visit to his own capital, Tirana.
"I would feel comfortable," Rama said, "because the guest would have the freedom to say whatever he wants."
Last month, a European Championship soccer qualifying match between the two national teams was suspended in Belgrade after a drone carrying an Albanian nationalist flag ignited clashes between players and fans.
"The match showed how vulnerable and fragile" relations are, Rama said.
"It made me more confident that this is the right thing to do," Rama added. "To communicate, to discuss, to agree and to agree to disagree."
Vucic blamed Rama for the failed talks.
"We regret that Prime Minister Rama's provocation led to a missed opportunity, but we would still like to work together for the future of our region," Vucic said on his Twitter account.
Associated Press writer Llazar Semini contributed from Tirana, Albania.