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Kosovo negotiations shifted to Contact Group

Moscow says only the UN Security Council has the power to decide on the future status of Kosovo. A European-American sponsored UN resolution suggested the issue could be transferred to the EU, beyond the influence of Russia. The draft rejected by Moscow h

Serbia's Prime Minister says the decision to hand over negotiations on the future of Kosovo to the Contact Group is a victory for Moscow and Belgrade.

“The fact that the draft resolution which was supposed to pave the way for Kosovo's independence has been recalled is of enormous significance for Serbia. It is the victory of law over attempts to cut away a large part of Serbia's territory. Belgrade is ready for a new round of talks with Pristina on Kosovo status,” stated Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica.

The reaction of the Kosovan authorities, though, does not offer the same hope for a mutually agreed solution. Thus, Kosovo's Prime Minister's suggested the province may declare its independence this November.

“Kosovo should proclaim its independence from Serbia on November 28. It is a date we celebrate in our history. We wanted to make this day more festive. This was initially an idea, among others, on how to progress a situation that has been blocked in the UN Security Council. In no way are we talking about a unilateral action. We are talking about a declaration co-ordinated with our friends and partners,” said Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku.

There have been tough negotiations over several months here in the Security Council where we have been clearly explaining our objections and we are very glad that our partners did accept the possibility and the need for further negotiations of the parties

Vitaly Churkin, Russian Ambassador to the UN

Now that this latest resolution has been shelved, the contact group on the Balkans will try to hold direct negotiations between the leaders of Serbia and Kosovo.

“We have decided to renew discussions within the contact group. We believe that resolving Kosovo status must be achieved as soon as possible. We hope that this discussion will lead to agreement between the parties. If not, we'll continue to believe that the Ahtisaari plan is the best way forward,” Jean Marc de la Sabiere, French ambassador to the UN, said.

The contact group consists of Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the U.S. and Russia and within it no country has the veto power. The U.S. ambassador to the UN Zalmay Khalilzad has warned on Friday that the contact group may move outside the UN Security Council process but the idea, at least for now, is to have the contact group meet for a period of 120 days, to have discussions in order to find a way to resolve the current stand-off.

At issue is a European-American sponsored draft resolution that Russia says will lead to Kosovo's independence from Serbia. It calls on the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia to resume negotiations for 120 days. After the talks, the United Nations would hand over the administration of the province to the European Union, removing the issue from Russia's influence. It drops the automatic route to independence if talks fail. But Russia, a close Serb ally, said the text still contained a hidden path toward Kosovo's independence.

“We can only consider a negotiated decision which would be acceptable to both sides. And in fact this is central to one of the main principles of the Helsinki Final OSCE Act, which states that national borders are inviolable except by mutual agreement of both sides. So we are not guarding our personal position but that of international law,” Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said.

While Kosovo is a province of Serbia, it has been under UN and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led war in 1999. In April this year, UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence. It was a proposal supported in the most part by the province's ethnic Albanians, who make up a majority of the two million population of the province.

Serbia, for its part, opposes the move towards independence and opposes the international pressure push that is being mounted.

We will re-evaluate our relations with countries that are positive about Kosovo’s independence or will one-sidedly recognise this independence,

Serbian Ambassador to Russia, Stanimir Vukicevic

“We will re-evaluate our relations with countries that are positive about Kosovo’s independence or will one-sidedly recognise this independence,” Serbian Ambassador to Russia, Stanimir Vukicevic promised.

With Russia insisting on Serbia's agreement for the path of the troubled province, it has proven to be an ongoing stalemate. The West sees little prospect of forcing Kosovo Albanians back into the arms of Belgrade, but Russia says any solution at the United Nations must have Serbian consent, and few expect Moscow to change its stance.

“If Russia prevents the Council from dealing with this issue, as I told you last week, the process will not stop there, the process will then move outside the Council. That is not positive, that would not be positive in our judgement, but really the ball is in Russia's court,” Zalmay Khalilzad, U.S. Ambassador to the UN, stated.

Kosovo has so far shied away from setting a deadline without Western support, and some ethnic Albanian leaders fear such action will worsen their position. But as the deadlock continues calls for a breakthrough are growing louder by the day.