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Kosovo must implement Serbia peace deal before it can join NATO - US senators

Banners displaying the NATO logo are placed at the entrance of new NATO headquarters during the move to the new building

By Fatos Bytyci

PRISTINA (Reuters) - Kosovo must implement a Western-brokered peace deal with Serbia if it wants to achieve its goal of joining the NATO military alliance, two U.S. senators visiting Pristina said on Monday.

U.S. Democratic senators Chris Murphy, a member of the foreign relations committee, and Gary Peters, who sits on the armed services committee, urged the two countries to act quickly on the accord reached in March with European Union mediation. They are part of a congressional delegation visiting the Balkans.

"The pathway (for Kosovo) to NATO and to the European Union runs through an agreement with Serbia. That's a hard fact," Murphy told journalists at the U.S. embassy in Pristina.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is not recognised as a state by four NATO members: Romania, Spain, Greece and Slovakia.

Murphy said the four could be convinced to accept Kosovo in NATO if differences with Serbia were settled. "It is dependent on this agreement being done and implemented," he said.

Despite a deal in March to normalise relations, there has been no progress on the ground especially in northern Kosovo where some 50,000 Serbs still do not accept Kosovo's statehood.

Washington is Kosovo's main supporter, both politically and financially. There are currently around 4,000 NATO troops in Kosovo, of whom 600 are from the United States to maintain the fragile peace.

Serbia and its traditional ally Russia do not recognise Kosovo’s independence, and Moscow has blocked the country's bid to become a member of the United Nations. Belgrade still considers Kosovo part of its territory.

(Reporting by Fatos Bytyci; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)