Russia, West inch toward UN deal on Kosovo

Other News Materials 28 November 2008 03:16 (UTC +04:00)

Russia and Western powers on the UN Security Council were negotiating behind closed doors on Tuesday in an attempt to clinch their first agreement on the issue of Kosovo since it seceded from Serbia, Reuters reported.

Security Council diplomats, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity, said they hoped to agree a statement supporting the deployment of a European Union law and justice mission in Kosovo.

As with all things related to Kosovo, negotiations on the EU mission, known as EULEX, have been divisive.

In February, the EU agreed to send EULEX to Kosovo to take over from the United Nations and oversee the police, the judiciary and customs, but its deployment was first delayed by opposition from Serbia, which had refused to accept the secession of its former province. Later Kosovo had objections.

But diplomats said Russia, the United States along with Britain, France and other European powers were nearing an agreement on a draft statement they hoped would get the unanimous backing of the 15-nation council.

""We're closer now to an agreement than we ever have been on the issue of Kosovo,"" said one diplomat involved in the closed-door talks about the text. Others confirmed his view.

Diplomats said any council agreement on Kosovo would be significant in light of what appeared to be an unbreakable deadlock on the issue and the deterioration of Russia's ties with the West after it invaded its neighbor Georgia in August.

But sharp differences remain, they said, enough to possibly prevent the council from securing a deal.

Serbia and Russia still refuse to recognize Kosovo's independence and Moscow has vowed to keep Pristina out of the UN and other world bodies where it has a veto.

On the issue of EULEX, diplomats say Russia wants the council statement to explicitly back a six-point plan brokered by the United Nations that has the support of Serbia but was rejected by Kosovo. The Americans and some Europeans are reluctant to have the council endorse that plan, they say.

They would prefer a general statement of support for deploying EULEX that gives the UN a clear mandate to begin handing over authority to the EU but with no clear endorsement of the UN plan rejected by Kosovo, the diplomats say.

Although it has pledged to cooperate with EULEX, Kosovo says the UN plan violates its constitution and results in a de facto partition of the fledgling state.

Under the six-point plan, police, customs officers and judges in the Serb-run areas of Kosovo would remain under the UN umbrella, known as UNMIK, while their Albanian counterparts would work with EULEX.

Kosovo is 90 percent Albanian. The remaining 120,000 Serbs refuse to cooperate with Albanian-run institutions.

UN officials reject the idea that the UN plan splits the country and keeps EULEX out of the mostly Serbian North. Rather, they say, it envisages a gradual transition from UNMIK to EULEX as the UN mission works to reintegrate the already alienated North with the rest of the country.

Western diplomats, including a senior U.S. envoy, said Kosovo's stated willingness to work with EULEX was enough to begin deploying it. But they made clear that their ultimate goal was to have EULEX operating across all of Kosovo.