Russia Rejects Final Kosovo Resolution

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

UNITED NATIONS – Russia rejected the final version of a U.S.-European Union draft resolution on Kosovo’s future status Wednesday, setting the stage for a vote that would lead to a Russian veto or moving the debate outside the U.N. Security Council.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said the council would discuss the draft in closed consultations on Thursday and the sponsors “will determine how to bring this to a close” and whether the council will play a role in determining the status of the Serbian province.

The final draft calls for four months of intensive negotiations between Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority, which is clamoring for independence, and the province’s Serb minority, which wants to remain part of Serbia.

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It drops an automatic route to independence if talks fail. But Russia, a close Serbia ally, said the text still contains a hidden path toward Kosovo’s independence.

The final text, circulated late Wednesday, spelled out for the first time who would facilitate the negotiations: participants in the Contact Group on Kosovo, which consists of diplomats from the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia and the European Union.

Asked Thursday whether there was anything in the new text that would make it more acceptable, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin replied: “No.”

While Kosovo is a province of Serbia, it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

In April, U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence _ a proposal strongly supported by the province’s ethnic Albanians, who make up 90 percent of the 2 million population, the U.S. and EU, but opposed by Serbia and Russia.

The draft resolution would hand over administration of Kosovo from the U.N. to the EU after 120 days, which means the EU would be the key decision-maker in the province. It affirms the council’s “readiness to review the situation further” in light of the Albanian-Serb negotiations _ but does not require further Security Council action, which Russia wanted.

There is widespread concern in the Security Council and the region that Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority could declare independence unilaterally if the council does not approve a path to independence.

Asked whether there was going to be a vote on the final draft, Khalilzad said “the ball is in Russia’s court.”

“If Russia prevents the council from dealing with this issue … the process will not stop there. The process then will move outside the council,” he said. “That would not be positive in our judgment.”

The decision on whether to call for a vote, however, is up to the sponsors _ the EU and U.S. One council member said a sponsor indicated it might not call for a vote if a Russia veto is certain.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana set the stage Tuesday for what was likely to happen next, saying in Brussels that the Contact Group was prepared to step in to try to resolve the dispute if efforts to reach agreement on a U.N. resolution remain stalled.

EU officials have said they may offer to host another round of talks between Serbs and Albanians in Brussels starting in September. Another possibility would be to replicate the 1995 talks at a U.S. air force base in Dayton, Ohio, which ended the war in Bosnia, by bringing together all international players at a location in Europe, officials said.

But Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and Boris Gryzlov, the leader of the pro-Kremlin United Russia party and spokesman for Russia’s lower house of parliament, rejected such mediation.

“The solution of the Kosovo question can be reached only through the United Nations,” Kostunica said.

“Kosovo is in the hands of the U.N. Security Council and all other world factors must follow its decisions,” Gryzlov added in Belgrade, Serbia.

Associated Press Writer Dusan Stojanovic contributed to this report from Belgrade, Serbia.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)