US, Russia’s president Agree to Continue Talks on Kosovo's Future

( LatWp ) - In a phone call initiated by Vladimir Putin, President Bush and the Russian leader agreed to continue discussing Moscow's concerns about independence for Kosovo, a sensitive subject expected to come up next month in the U.N. Security Council.

The United States and the European Union support a plan by U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari, a former president of Finland, that would grant Kosovo independence from Serbia but keep it under international supervision until a new constitution is enacted and a multi-ethnic government is established.

Russia and Serbia have publicly opposed any Security Council resolution that would put the independence plan on track. A Russian veto of such a resolution could exacerbate growing tensions between Moscow and Washington, which, along with the E.U. nations, wants to move ahead in the next two months on this issue and others.

Adding to the new East-West tension, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced in Moscow Monday that it has called for an emergency conference next month to discuss the post-Cold War Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) Treaty, an arms control pact that limits conventional troops and weaponry in Europe. The Russian statement said that there were ``serious problems related to the observance of the treaty by NATO nations as a result of the alliance's expansion and their foot-dragging on the ratification of the 1999 agreement to amend the CFE.''

Unmentioned, but expected to be involved in the CFE conference, is the U.S. plan to put 10 anti-missile interceptors in Poland and a radar in the Czech Republic by 2012 as part of a new American defense system against potential missile attacks from Iran or North Korea.

In April, Putin declared a moratorium on Russia's implementation of the arms treaty in response to the U.S. missile defense plans, calling them a reason to withdraw from the pact.

Congress has taken steps to slow down the proposed interceptor missile site in Poland. The House voted this month to delete money for preparation of the site from the fiscal 2008 defense authorization bill, and last week the Senate Armed Services Committee agreed to hold back any funding for the Polish site until it can review and approve any U.S. agreements with Warsaw and Prague. Unless the situation changes dramatically, it is doubtful that there will be money in the final legislation to begin work on the Polish site.

The twin issues of Kosovo and the proposed U.S. missile defense system will be the subject of discussions when Putin and Bush meet next month at the Group of Eight summit in the German resort of Heiligendamm. After the June 6-8 sessions, Bush plans to visit the Czech Republic and Poland.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are expected to meet again shortly to continue discussing both issues in preparation for the G8 sessions. They met two weeks ago in Moscow with the same matters on the table.

On May 15, Rice told reporters in Moscow that, while the two sides ``don't see eye to eye'' about the proposed anti-missile system, ``it is still quite a long time until such deployments would come into being, and we very much value the opportunity to discuss the issue with Russia and to talk about the emerging threats.''

Three days after their meeting, Lavrov told the BBC World Service that ``these Czech and Polish locations perfectly fit into the overall global design of the American missile defense, which is surrounding the perimeters of the Russian borders.''

Kosovo has been under U.N. supervision since the Serbs were driven out in 1998 by NATO forces, and its ethnically Albanian majority population has been pressing for independence. At the May 15 news conference in Moscow, Rice said that those desires deserve recognition.

``Ultimately the time has come to make de jure what is de facto,'' she said, ``and that's the point that I made to President Putin.''

At that same session, Lavrov said that ``it was agreed to search for a solution on Kosovo that would be acceptable for all, but there is no such solution immediately in sight.''

A diplomat close to the Kosovo talks cast doubt Monday on a report in the Croatian newspaper Jutarnji List that Russia, the United States and the European Union had reached a compromise on Kosovo. ``I have heard nothing about such an agreement,'' he said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to discuss the subject.

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