* Serbia wants to lease 12 new planes from Airbus
* Considers partnership with Etihad (Adds finance minister comments)
BELGRADE Oct 22 Serbia wants to set up a new airline from its loss-making JAT Airways and plans to lease 12 new aircraft from EADS's Airbus, in a precursor to a deal with another carrier.
Finance minister Mladjan Dinkic said on Monday the government would guarantee the aircraft leases before seeking a tie-up with an airline such as fast-expanding Etihad, a state- controlled carrier in the United Arab Emirates.
" The new, better company would receive $140 million worth of sovereign guarantees..," Dinkic said on the sidelines of a business forum in Belgrade.
"The old JAT will have to go bankrupt ... It is unsustainable," he said.
Serbia, struggling with a budget deficit projected at 6.2 percent of gross domestic product, has long wanted to sell JAT, which last year made a loss of 3.2 billion dinar (27 million euros).
Dinkic said he had discussed the possibility of Etihad buying a stake in the new Serbian airline and taking over the lease guarantees with UAE officials during a recent visit to Dubai.
He said Etihad may also want to build a new cargo terminal at Belgrade airport.
In March JAT, which operates 14 ageing aircraft, received government guarantees of 10 million euros ($12.6 million) for a loan to cover short-term liabilities.
Last month, Serbian officials said Belgrade was negotiating to sell the airline to AirAsia but the Malaysian company denied that it was interested. ($1=0.7674 euros) (Reporting by Aleksandar Vasovic; Editing by Erica Billingham)