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Clinton congratulates Serbia on EU candidacy

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(WASHINGTON) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton congratulated Serbia Friday for achieving the status of candidate for admission to the European Union.

Calling the European decision "an important step forward for Serbia's future," Clinton hailed "the leadership and the people of Serbia for their hard work, commitment and determination toward this goal."

Belgrade obtained the coveted candidate status on Thursday, two years after knocking on the EU's door.

The EU also opened the way Thursday to an agreement of association with Kosovo, the first step on the path to admission of the former Serb province, which Clinton also welcomed.

"This is important for Kosovo's European orientation and a key sign of Europe's commitment to Kosovo," she said in a statement.

"I commend the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia for their courage and commitment in making the tough political decisions necessary to reach these milestones.

"I encourage the leaders of both countries to continue making progress in the EU-led dialogue, and to fully implement the decisions already agreed upon," she added.

Last week, Serbia and Kosovo reached a regional cooperation agreement that will permit Pristina to take part in conferences concerning the Balkans without Belgrade recognizing Kosovo's independence for the time being.

The agreement was one of the main conditions placed on Serbia by Brussels to become a candidate for EU admission.

Kosovo in 2008 unilaterally proclaimed its independence from Serbia, which has vehemently refused to recognize it. Kosovo has been recognized by nearly 90 other countries, including the United States and most EU members.

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