PRISTINA, Kosovo (AP) — U.S. Vice President Joe Biden urged wartime foes Serbia and Kosovo on Wednesday to mend ties and normalize relations, a condition for both Balkan countries to join the European Union.
Speaking to reporters after talks with Kosovo President Hashim Thaci, Biden said, "I know the scars of war are raw ... but reconciliation is necessary."
Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, but Belgrade does not recognize its former province's statehood.
Serbia and Kosovo have signed a series of EU-brokered deals to regulate relations between the two. Some of those agreements — including one giving more self-rule to Kosovo's Serb minority — remain unimplemented.
"It will be difficult, but it is necessary and important, urgent work," Biden said, adding that he delivered the same message to Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic on Tuesday in Belgrade.
As a U.S. senator during the 1990s, Biden was a strong advocate of American involvement in the war-torn Balkans. He is in the second day of three-day trip that will be his last as vice president to the region.
Later Wednesday, Biden attended with his family an emotional ceremony naming a road near an American military base after his late son, Beau Biden, who died last year of brain cancer at age 46.
Beau Biden, former Delaware Attorney General, served in 2001 in Kosovo as an interim legal adviser.
"It was his strong belief from having been here at the depth of a very difficult time (for Kosovo) that made me confident that calling for the independence of this great country was the right thing to do," Biden said.
"Beau loved this country like I do," Biden said, turning around and pointing to grassy hills nearby as American and Kosovo flags fluttered in the background. "On behalf of the Biden family, we are extremely grateful and humbled beyond words."
With Thaci standing at his side, the vice president said earlier in the day that both the Kosovo president and the Serbian prime minister understand that normalizing relations "has to be done" and would benefit both Belgrade and Pristina.
"This is crucial for advancing both Kosovo and Serbia into Europe. Without it, it will not likely happen," he said.
Thaci told Biden that the reconciliation of Kosovo and Serbia is possible and will happen.
"We won't forget the past, but we will also not remain its hostages," Thaci said
During a visit to Serbia on Tuesday, Biden offered his condolences to the families of those killed in the Balkan wars in the 1990s, including those killed in U.S.-led NATO airstrikes.
A NATO bombardment in 1999 stopped Serbia's crackdown against ethnic Albanian separatists, ending Belgrade's rule over Kosovo.
AP writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.