( AP ) - Serbia and Kosovo square off at the U.N. Security Council Wednesday, with the Kosovars demanding quick independence and the Serbs demanding that the province remain part of its territory.
Both sides have supporters in the U.N.'s most powerful body - the U.S. and key European Union nations backing Kosovo's call for independence and Russia supporting its close ally Serbia and calling for further negotiations.
The council meeting will focus on a report by United States, European Union and Russian mediators in two-year talks between Belgrade and Kosovo on resolving the status of the Serbian province. The talks ended in late November without an agreement.
Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's prime minister-elect, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Kosovo is "ready for independence."
"We have no time to lose, to waste," he said. "We need a decision ... for independence and qualitative recognition of (the) democratic world. ... We wasted a hundred years. We fight for our independence. We deserve our freedom."
But Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin is pressing for further negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina and has appealed to the international community to "encourage them to reach a mutually acceptable solution to this problem."
Churkin has introduced elements for a council statement that would back additional negotiations, but Britain, France, the U.S. and others have said the talks have been exhausted and it's time to resolve Kosovo's status.
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov accused the West on Tuesday of forcing Kosovo into an uncompromising stance which is blocking negotiations.
Although Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, the southern province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when the Western military alliance ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Thaci, a former rebel leader who won last month's general elections, said two years of negotiations failed to resolve the status issue and additional time would be fruitless - "now is (the) time for decision."
" Independence for Kosov is the only solution for Kosovo," he stressed. "It's a guarantee (of) peace and stability in the region and is the best choice for the United States and Europe."
Russia's Lavrov said the West has been "holding Pristina's hand" throughout the negotiations on Kosovo's future and forcing the predominantly ethnic Albanian-populated province into an "uncompromising position." Pristina is the capital of the Kosovo region.
"This in effect is blocking negotiations," the minister told a news conference in Latvia.
At a European Union summit on Friday, leaders rejected immediate unilateral recognition of an independent Kosovo. They agreed instead to try to coordinate a phased-in recognition of Kosovo's independence and also left the door open for a negotiated settlement between Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders.
Thaci said Kosovo would take no unilateral action, but would coordinate future action with the EU and the U.S.
The EU leaders agreed to send an 1,800-strong police and security mission to Kosovo to replace the current United Nations administrative mission.
But Lavrov reiterated that such a mission would be a violate the Security Council resolution that authorized the U.N. administration of Kosovo.
Thaci said Kosovo would like to have the Security Council make a decision, but if the council is blocked, presumably by a Russian veto, Kosovo will go outside the council and would expect the European Union to recognize an independent Kosovo.