PARIS, Oct 18 (Reuters) France denied today any link between a Kosovo peace deal and EU entry talks with Serbia, but said Belgrade's failure to reach an agreement with its rebel province about independence would make it more difficult.
''The two phenomena are not intimately linked,'' French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told reporters after talks in the French capital with Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic.
''But it would be a lie to say that it would be easier to join the European Union if the Kosovo problem was not resolved. It will be more difficult,'' he said.
The European Union on Monday delayed a decision to initial a first agreement on closer ties with Serbia after the chief UN war crimes prosecutor said Belgrade had yet to cooperate sufficiently with her tribunal.
Signing a Stabilisation and Association Agreement with the European Union would be the first step towards eventual membership of the 27-nation bloc. But the dispute over the final status of Kosovo has further complicated matters.
A troika of international mediators trying to broker a solution on Kosovo's future status has until Dec 10 to report to the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon.
The United States and EU, who with Russia are the parties to the talks, say the troika should wrap up its talks by that date -- a stance that has put them at odds with Moscow.
Kosovo's majority Albanian population wants to split from Serbia and declare its independence by the end of this year, regardless of whether there is a negotiated solution by then.
Serbia does not want an independent Kosovo. Russia has backed Serbia and blocked a proposal by a United Nations envoy that would have set Kosovo on the path to independence.
Serbia's Jeremic said a negotiated settlement of the Kosovo question was the best way to ensure the integration of Serbia and the Western Balkans in general, with the European Union.
REUTERS PD KN1835