Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic's visit to The Vatican on Thursday will once again show that Croatia cultivates excellent and very close relations with the Holy See, Foreign and European Affairs Minister Miro Kovac said on Wednesday after the government session, adding that he was an optimist with regard to the date of Cardinal Alojzija Stepinac's canonisation.

"With that visit, Croatia will once again show that it cultivates excellent, very close relations with the Holy See and that it recognises the important role of the local church, that means the Catholic Church in Croatia," Kovac, who will accompany the prime minister to The Vatican, told the press.

He announced that Prime Minister Oreskovic would speak with the Pope about overall relations between the Vatican and Croatia, relations toward Croats in Bosnia and Herzegovina and about the canonisation of Alojzije Stepinac and the migrant crisis that has hit Europe.

Asked by reporters whether the date of Stepinac's canonisation would be made known, Kovac said that the talks would focus on the entire process. "I think that the prime minister and Holy Father will discuss that topic tete a tete. Personally, I'm an optimist."

Asked what Serbia was precisely required to do for Croatia to approve the opening of negotiations on Chapter 23 (on the judiciary and fundamental rights) with the European Union, Kovac said that everything was known, that Croatia was communicating with the European Commission and that it had clearly said what it expects of the negotiations.

"It is clear that complete cooperation with the tribunal in the Hague (International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia - ICTY) has to be included in negotiation measures. It is also very clear that Serbia cannot be a judge for all the countries of the former Yugoslavia for war crimes, including Croatia. That is impermissible and that will have to be part of the negotiation benchmarks that Serbia has to meet," he said.

Croatia also expects, he continued, Serbia to fulfil its obligations pertaining to an international agreement on the protection of minorities. "Croatia has been implementing its obligations for some time regardless of that agreement. We expect the Croat minority to be represented in the national parliament, based on the legislation, as foreseen by the international agreement between Croatia and Serbia."

Kovac underscored that he would like friendly and partner-like relations with Serbia.

Reflecting on Croatia's obligations to accept about 500 refugees from Turkey, as part of the agreement between the European Union and Turkey which entered into force on Monday, Kovac said that they would be arriving in the next few days and that that promise would be fulfilled.

The Interior Ministry and Minister Vlaho Orepic are preparing a plan for the reception and accommodation of refugees and it will be presented to the public soon, said Kovac.

Ahead of the government session, Minsiter Kovac signed a book of condolences in the German Embassy on the occasion of the death of former Germany chancellor and foreign minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher. He underscored that the world had lost a great statesman and Croatia a great friend.

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