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US Says Kosovo Differences Not Insurmountable


U.S. State Department officials say they believe obstacles to an international agreement on Kosovo's future can be overcome despite vocal Russian opposition to a United Nations mediator's plan. U.S. and other senior diplomats of the six-nation Contact Group on Kosovo met Thursday in London. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Russia has backed the Serbian government in strongly opposing the Kosovo settlement plan of U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtissari, who proposes supervised independence for the breakaway Serbian province.

But officials here say that following the London meeting, the chief U.S. delegate - Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns - believes that the problems are not insurmountable and that a Kosovo plan will go to the U.N. Security Council soon.

The majority ethnic-Albanian province in southern Serbia has been under U.N. administration since 1999, after a NATO air campaign drove out Serb forces waging a brutal crackdown against Albanians.

The Ahtisaari plan, the product of months of diplomacy by the former Finnish president, would give Kosovo most of the trappings of independence, though NATO troops and European police would continue to provide security.

Serbia fiercely opposes independence and has backed an alternate plan for what it terms supervised autonomy. Moscow has said that to allow independence would encourage separatists in other areas, including its own Caucuses region.

At a news briefing, State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey said that aside from Russia, there was great unity among the other Contact Group countries --including Britain, France, Germany and Italy as well as the United States -- on the need to press ahead with the Ahtisaari plan.

"Certainly we believe that the Ahtisaari plan does offer a viable way forward and are looking forward to continuing these discussions with the Russians. Because we do think it's important for all of us, including the Russians, to be able to support this resolution, as it offers the best hopes forward for the people of Kosovo and the people of Serbia," he said.

A senior U.S. diplomat who spoke to reporters said Undersecretary Burns came away from the London meeting believing that differences with the Russians can be bridged, though he did not elaborate on what compromises might be necessary to avoid a Russian veto of the Ahtisaari plan.

Spokesman Casey said talks on Kosovo will continue at the United Nations, and that the issue is expected to figure in talks Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will have in Moscow later this month.

Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, who make up some 90 percent of the province's population, have threatened to unilaterally declare independence if the Ahtisaari plan is not adopted by the Security Council in the coming weeks.

In remarks in London, Mr. Ahtisaari said the plan is the only way forward for Kosovo and that there is no way to convince the ethnic-Albanian population to return to Serbian rule after their ill-treatment under the former Yugoslav government of Slobodan Milosevic.

Mr. Ahtisaari said NATO would set the timetable for withdrawing its troops from Kosovo but said he expected them to remain for at least five more years.

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