Kosovo talks must be flexible, finite, says West
( Reuters ) - Talks on the future of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo must not drag on indefinitely or get sidetracked in an arid dispute over labels such as "independence," senior European officials said on Tuesday.
They spoke as talks were to resume in London, with a 'troika' of United States, European Union and Russian envoys groping for compromise between Serb rejection of independence and the demand for statehood by Kosovo's two million Albanians.
"I hope...the two sides and the troika can arrive at some sort of minimal consensus. But that (process) should not be eternal," French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, former United Nations special representative in Kosovo, said in Moscow after talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
The troika must report to the U.N. by December 10, which the EU and Washington see as a deadline but Russia does not.
"We do not think it is possible to set artificial deadlines," Lavrov said.
After 13 months of talks with no agreement, Moscow earlier this year blocked a Western-backed U.N. resolution calling for independence for Kosovo under EU supervision.
Russia and Serbia insist the talks be open-ended. They also complain that EU and U.S. support for Albanian independence demands makes a mockery of the negotiation process.
Kosovo has been run by the U.N. since 1999, when NATO bombed Serbia for 11 weeks to stop a Serb counter-insurgency war which killed some 10,000 civilians and forced 800,000 to flee.
NATO allies with 16,000 troops on the ground fear unrest if there is no clear roadmap to the future very soon.
The 27-member EU, which would deploy an 1,800-strong police and justice mission as part of its supervisory role, is split on whether to recognize a new state without a U.N. resolution.
In an interview with Britain's Independent newspaper, the EU troika envoy, Wolfgang Ischinger of Germany, sought to smooth differences, saying Serbs and Kosovo Albanians should get away from labels such as "independence."
"I would say that we will try to reach a status solution which will provide for an internationally supervised status for Kosovo," he was quoted as saying. "I would leave open independence. I would rather talk about strong supervised status."
Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku told Reuters in Pristina he would ask Ischinger for clarification, and whether the newspaper had misinterpreted his remark as a sign the EU was "backing away from a clear endorsement of independence."
"Despite all this, nothing can alter the will of the people of Kosovo on the path to independence," Ceku said, before later heading to London. Serbs were due to meet the troika on Tuesday evening, Albanians on Wednesday morning.
Kosovo Albanians are running out of patience with months of delay on a decision on their demand, and are threatening to declare independence after December 10. if there is no agreement with Serbia.
Russia's Lavrov said he did "not see how a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo can stabilize the situation in Kosovo."
The first direct talks are due on September 28, on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York.