BRUSSELS, July 4 (Reuters) - The European Commission aims to encourage Serbia this week by finalising moves for a restart of talks on eventual membership the moment it complies with demands to hand over war criminals, an EU official said on Tuesday.
Separate negotiation mandates for Serbia and Montenegro, needed after the latter voted for independence in May, should be ready by the time EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn visits Serbia on Thursday and Montenegro on Friday.
While they would still have to be rubber-stamped by the 25 EU member states, the aim was to send a signal of encouragement to Serbia that Brussels was willing to resume talks as soon as Belgrade hands over war crimes fugitives, the official said.
"It is actually a signal and a message," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Once the mandates are approved it will mean that everything will be prepared to resume the negotiations provided the conditions on cooperation with the ICTY are fulfilled."
The European Union suspended talks with Serbia on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement that is a first step towards joining the bloc in May after Belgrade failed to hand over war crimes fugitive Ratko Mladic to the ICTY -- the International Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.
It says it will not resume negotiations until there is "full cooperation" with the Hague tribunal -- meaning the arrest and transfer of all indicted fugitives.
However, fears have risen that disillusionment with the West and the prospect of independence for the breakaway province of Kosovo following hard on the heels of that of Montenegro could benefit ultranationalist, anti-Western parties in Serbia.
On Friday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Brussels there was need to "reach out" to the Serbs to stress they had a future with Europe and NATO. "The Serbs need that positive signal," he said.
The EU official said the clear message from Brussels was that Serbia clearly has a European perspective but conditions for a resumption of talks have to be fulfilled.
At the same time the European Union has underlined its commitment to Serbia with financial aid, better trade relations and plans to ease people-to-people contact through visa facilitation and scholarships.
Announcing the suspension of the talks in May, Rehn said it was still possible to conclude the agreement by the year-end, but this target will become increasingly untenable.
"There will be that point, but we still trust that this hurdle can be cleared," the EU official said.
In Belgrade, Rehn will meet Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, who last month called the EU stance "deeply wrong" and counter-productive. In an unusually blunt riposte, Rehn said he should not blame Brussels for his own government's failures.