Lavrov says U.S. main obstacle to Kosovo settlement

( RIA Novosti ) - Russia's foreign minister said on Saturday that the U.S. position on Kosovo was the main obstacle to a negotiated solution on the province's status.

"Unfortunately, the fixed position of certain Western capitals, above all Washington...on independence for Kosovo and the lack of an alternative to independence, is the main obstacle on the path to a continuation of a negotiated settlement [on Kosovo's status]," Sergei Lavrov told journalists upon his return from Brussels, where he had taken part in a Russia-NATO Council meeting.

The group of international mediators in talks on Kosovo submitted to the UN Security Council a report on Friday saying that the parties had failed to reach an agreement.

The Contact Group troika of mediators - Russia, the United States and the European Union - concluded months of talks last week.

A diplomatic source said that no agreement was in sight either between Belgrade and Pristina, or within the troika itself, adding that Russia stood firm on its view that independence could only be granted to Kosovo if both Pristina and Belgrade were in agreement.

NATO announced on Friday that it would maintain its KFOR Kosovo peace force at present levels, and would supply new troops as necessary to counter any violence in the province, as Serbia spoke of "war".

"KFOR shall remain in Kosovo on the basis of UN Security Council resolution 1244, unless the Security Council decides otherwise. We renew our commitment to maintain KFOR's national force, contributions, including reserves, at current levels," the NATO communique said after a meeting of foreign ministers of the 26-nation alliance.

Earlier on Friday, at the start of the talks, NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, told foreign ministers that, "We will act resolutely against anyone who seeks to resort to violence."

Scheffer's statement came after Aleksandar Simic, an adviser to Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica, said Serbia had the right to use military force to defend its interests in Kosovo.

"The State has no recourse other than war when someone does not respect the UN Security Council," he told Serbian state television.

The latest round of negotiations, held in Austria last week, failed to break the long-running deadlock over the province's status. The talks between Belgrade and Pristina, with Russia, the U.S. and the EU mediating, only saw Kosovo continue to insist on full independence with Serbia offering broad autonomy.

The UN has set December 10 as a deadline for the parties to reach an agreement. Kosovo has repeatedly said it will unilaterally declare independence if the UN fails to give its approval.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday that there was a "logic" to Kosovo's independence, and other European states are also expected to announce their recognition of Kosovo's statehood in the event of the province declaring its independence.

Russia, Serbia's long-time ally, has repeatedly warned that independence would serve as a precedent and could have a knock-on effect, provoking instability in other secessionist territories, including those in the former Soviet Union.

NATO foreign ministers spoke openly on Friday of difficulties in current relations with Russia.

"This partnership has entered a challenging phase," ministers said in a communique, also saying that, "We value and want to continue our constructive and frank dialogue with Russia, including on issues on which we disagree."

Kosovo has been a UN protectorate since 1999, when NATO's bombing of the former Yugoslavia ended a bloody war between Serb forces and ethnic Albanians in the region.

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