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Delay on Kosovo Status Tests Western Unity on Kosovo


The future of Kosovo, the Albanian populated south Serbian province administered by the United Nations, was among the issues taken up by the U.S. and Russian presidents during their summit meeting Monday. The U.S. and Russia disagree on a U.N. envoy's plan for conditional independence. VOA's Barry Wood reports, analysts caution delay in implementing the plan is putting strains on U.S.-European unity.

It has been over three months since former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari unveiled his plan for Kosovo's conditional independence. Endorsed by the United States and four European nations that guided a year of fruitless negotiations between Serbs and Kosovars, only the sixth member of the group, Russia, opposes the Ahtisaari solution, which combines independence for the province with security guarantees for Kosovo's embattled five percent Serb minority.

Russia has threatened to use its veto to block Security Council endorsement of the Ahtisaari plan. Moscow wants more negotiations.

Backed by a 16,000-strong NATO-led force, the United Nations has administered Kosovo since 1999, after NATO bombings drove out Serb troops.

Frustrated by years of delay in resolving Kosovo's status, the province's elected government is threatening a unilateral declaration of independence. Steven Meyer of Washington's National Defense University says that would create problems for U.S. diplomacy. "Because, if the United States recognizes this, it makes it much more difficult for us to claim that we are on the side of international law, of democratic procedure, and so forth, to see a breakaway province, sort of illegally, against the U.N.'s wishes, sort of move in that direction. If we don't recognize (a unilateral declaration), then it becomes a problem with the Albanian majority, who has been pretty pro-American and would begin to see us in a very different light," he said.

Ahtisaari wants the European Union to oversee Kosovo's government and take over peacekeeping duties from NATO. Alexandros Mallias, a specialist on Balkan affairs, is the Greek ambassador in Washington. He says the EU cannot take over in Kosovo without a U.N. Security Council resolution.

"Thus, we need all the permanent members of the Security Council to be on board. This means, to my sense, that Russia has to be on board. This is why we believe that it is important to continue to engage Russia. Kosovo is principally a European issue. It is on European territory; it is in the European theater," he said.

The Americans and the West Europeans generally accept that Kosovo will become independent. But Steven Meyer says, if delays continue, that unity will become increasingly fragile, as some Europeans continue to oppose the idea that one part of a sovereign state can become independent. A worrisome precedent, they argue, would be set.

At their summit meeting in the U.S. state of Maine, U.S. President George Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the issue, but appeared to have made little headway. U.S. National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley said they agreed to continue discussions under way bilaterally, with European allies and in the United Nations to "see if we can find a solution on the way forward."

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