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Kosovo Says it Will Not Unilaterally Declare Independence

Kosovo officials meeting U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday said they will not declare independence for four months while negotiations about the province's status are under way. VOA's Barry Wood reports.

U.S. officials say Kosovo's leaders have agreed to wait 120 days before declaring independence. Last week Kosovo's Prime Minister Agim Ceku said absent a Security Council resolution recommending independence, Kosovo would declare independence in late November.

The secessionist Serbian province whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian has been administered by the United Nations since 1999 when NATO bombing drove Serb forces out of Kosovo.

It is Russia that has called for a new round of status talks after rejecting the proposal for conditional independence recently put forward by special U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. Russia's threat to use its veto in the Security Council forced western nations to withdraw proposed resolutions that would have implemented the Ahtisaari plan. Moscow says U.N. endorsement of Kosovo's secession would encourage breakaway regions elsewhere.

The new round of talks will be led by a six-nation contact group that includes Russia, the United States and four west European countries. High-level contact group officials meet later this week in Europe to prepare for a round of shuttle diplomacy between Pristina and Belgrade.

U.S. officials say that after the further 120 days of talks there will be no further delay. Both the United States and France say Kosovo's independence is inevitable. Prime Minister Ceku told VOA that after the 120 days there will be a coordinated proclamation of independence involving Kosovo, the European Union and the United States.

"Today we got a powerful guarantee that after this period the status will be solved and the solution will be the independence of Kosovo," he said.

U.S. officials say Kosovar leaders will use the next four months to obtain parliamentary approval for a new constitution, a law on elections, a new flag and national symbols, and guarantees for the Serb minority.

European Union foreign ministers also discussed Kosovo Monday in Brussels. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, with long experience in the Balkans, said keeping the 27 nation EU united on Kosovo is essential. Greece, Spain, Cyprus and Slovakia are reluctant to endorse Kosovo's independence.

Under the Ahtisaari plan, the EU will take over from the U.N. many administrative responsibilities in Kosovo. U.S. officials say they are optimistic that the EU and U.S. will find consensus on Kosovo, but they are less optimistic that Moscow can be convinced to go along.