Croatian and Serbian leaders said in Sarajevo on Sunday that direct talks were required to settle disputes regarding Serbia's EU accession talks which Croatia has stopped claiming that Serbia is not meeting EU membership criteria. 

The Croatian government claims that it supports Serbia's integration with the EU but believes that Serbia is still not ready to open the EU policy chapter No. 23, which concerns judiciary and fundamental rights.

Croatian President Kolinda Grabar-Kitarovic and her Serbian counterpart Tomislav Nikolic discussed the latest dispute between the two countries at a summit of the Brdo-Brijuni Process in Sarajevo today.

"I want to underline that Croatia is not blocking nor does it want to block Serbia in its EU entry talks. Moreover, it is in our interest for Serbia to join (the EU) as soon as possible," Grabar-Kitarovic said at a news conference after the summit.

"However, what we will insist on is that all criteria are met... including criteria from the Stabilisation and Association Process. I extended an invitation to President Nikolic today for Croatia and Serbia to sit at the table and settle through talks these contentious issues regarding Chapter 23," said the Croatian president.

Nikolic said that Serbia sincerely wished to become a member of the EU and resented Croatia's trying to prove its lack of readiness already in the first negotiating chapter.

"I believe that we will settle (the dispute) through direct talks," Nikolic said, adding that it was important to show that nobody wanted to stop the EU enlargement process.

He said that Croatia had failed to prove to the EU that its demands were justified, adding that experts would soon start dealing with the problem.

"I believe that Croatia will not be able to justify its position and that Serbia will most probably open the said chapter," Nikolic said, adding that some Croatian politicians proved their existence by attacking Serbia.

"I always hope that this is a political minority in Croatia and that Croatia will not have to go back to the past to look for an answer to the question of how to behave towards Serbia," he added.

Serbia is expecting negotiations on the chapters 23 and 24, concerning judiciary and fundamental rights and justice, freedom and security, to start in June, but Croatia has still not given its consent.

Croatia wants a benchmark to be set for the opening of Chapter 23 that would oblige Serbia to fully cooperate with the UN war crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, repeal its law on regional jurisdiction for the prosecution of war crimes in the former Yugoslavia, and ensure rights for the Croat minority.

Negotiations with the European Commission and EU member states on the matter are still under way.

Nikolic also said that Chapter 35, which concerns the status of Kosovo, would be a big problem, both for Serbia and for the EU, "which has caused it", and stressed that Serbia would not join NATO or any other military alliance.

Answering reporters' questions, Grabar-Kitarovic said that there were no Ustasha or neo-Ustasha ideologies in Croatia, but that there were incidents designed to cause artificial divisions between citizens.

"There is not a single deputy in the Croatian Sabor who promotes Ustasha ideology," she said, stressing that she condemned all totalitarian systems, including Yugoslav Communism.

She said that the burning problems in Croatia were demographic trends, emigration of young people and the economic situation.

"I will focus on that. Any other debate is pointless," said Grabar-Kitarovic.

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