United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon received a report yesterday confirming a deadlock in negotiations between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian leaders and Serbia over the future status of Kosovo.
But Russia called for further talks, saying “a solution is possible”.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice disagreed, however, saying the time for negotiations was over.
She said failure to move ahead on Kosovo’s status was ignoring the reality in the Serb province where the ethnic-Albanian majority has pledged to declare independence with or without an international agreement.
The report sets the stage for a difficult period ahead, both at the United Nations and in Europe over Kosovo’s future.
It will pit the United States, and most European countries who back the ethnic Albanian quest for independence, against Serbia and its close ally Russia, who are vehemently opposed.
The US, the European Union and Russia reported to the secretary-general that negotiations “served a useful purpose” and led to “the most sustained and intense high-level direct dialogue since hostilities ended in Kosovo in 1999”.
“Perhaps most important, Belgrade and Pristina reaffirmed the centrality of their European perspective to their future relations, with both sides restating their desire to seek a future under the common roof of the European Union,” the negotiators said.
But they said the talks failed because “neither party was willing to cede its position on the fundamental question of sovereignty”, according to a copy obtained by the media.
The negotiators said they could not bridge the gap between Kosovo’s Albanian leadership, which refused to budge on its demand for independence, and the Serbian government, which offered a high degree of autonomy to Kosovo but insisted that the province remain part of Serbia.
The widely expected declaration of failure came after more than two years of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians comprise 90 percent of the seven million population.
It came eight years after Nato airstrikes ended former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic’s crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists and the UN began administering the province.
Russia’s UN Ambassador Vitaly Churkin rejected the word “failure” to describe the 120 days of negotiations, calling the talks “a very worthwhile exercise … that produced some serious results” and the first “substantive dialogue” in years.
“We believe that this outcome is quite encouraging,” Mr Churkin said.
While the Kosovo Albanians’ refusal to show flexibility was regrettable, “we believe that certainly the talks revealed that a solution is possible”, he said.
The Security Council is scheduled to discuss the Kosovo report on December 19.
Ms Rice yesterday made clear that the US will not support more negotiations.
“I think that process is at an end,” she told reporters in Brussels, where she attended meetings with other Nato foreign ministers and Russia’s foreign minister.
“We have to move on to the next step,” Ms Rice told a news conference. “It is not going to produce stability in the Balkans to ignore the reality of the situation.”
The Nato foreign ministers agreed to maintain a strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo to handle any flare-up of violence in the province.
“Nato will respond resolutely to any attempts to disrupt the safety and security of any of the people of Kosovo,” the ministers said.
The negotiators stressed in the report that Kosovo’s leaders and Serbia “pledged to refrain from actions that might jeopardise the security situation in Kosovo or elsewhere, and not use violence, threats or intimidation”.
“Both parties must be reminded that their failure to live up to these commitments will affect the achievement of the European future that they both seek,” the negotiators said.
Earlier this year, Russia blocked UN Security Council approval of a plan drawn up by UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari that proposed internationally supervised statehood.
The four-month diplomatic effort that ended last week was aimed at ending the deadlock.
The report to Ban said that talks supervised by mediators from the US, the EU and Russia over the last four months covered numerous possible outcomes, including independence, autonomy, and forms of confederation.
“Our sessions were long and often difficult, as we confronted a legacy of the mutual mistrust and sense of historical grievance about the conflicts of the 1990s,” the mediators wrote.
While Russia will be pressing for more talks, the United States and European countries have said they want a period of consultations with Kosovo’s leaders on how to move forward.
“It’s not going to help stability to put off decisions, that, difficult though they might be, are decisions that are going to have to be taken,” Ms Rice said yesterday.
Kosovo officials have pledged to coordinate any move with the US and the EU. A declaration before Serbia’s presidential elections, tentatively scheduled for January 20, appeared unlikely.
Mr Churkin told reporters that a unilateral declaration of independence would be contrary to international law, set a precedent for other separatist movements and destabilise the region.
“It would hurt everybody including the Kosovars themselves,” he said, because “the political realities are such” that they would never be able to join the United Nations or other international political institutions.
Serbia’s Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic warned in an AP interview on Thursday that if Kosovo’s Albanian leaders declare independence, “short of using military force, Serbia is going to do everything that is in our diplomatic power, legal power, economic power, political power” to make sure the decision is reversed.
Although many EU nations have said they would support Kosovo’s independence there are holdouts including Slovakia, Spain, Greece, Cyprus and Romania, which fear a unilateral independence declaration would set a dangerous precedent for separatist movements worldwide.