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Experts Discuss Future of Kosovo

With the United Nations set to discuss on May 27 a likely move towards final status negotiations for the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo, a panel of experts Tuesday discussed the future of Kosovo and the western Balkans at Washington's Woodrow Wilson Center. Speakers emphasized the need for the entire region to be integrated into the European Union.

State Department Balkans expert Charles English said the United States is hopeful that the U.N. will undertake a comprehensive review that could lead to the beginning of status negotiations for Kosovo in September. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence. Serbia opposes it. The review will assess the progress of Kosovo's elected administration in complying with western standards of governance.

Elaborating on a policy initiative unveiled by Under-Secretary of Nicholas Burns a week ago, Mr. English said Kosovo's government has not yet succeeded in guaranteeing the security of the province's non-Albanian citizens, most of whom are confined to enclaves protected by NATO led peacekeepers. More must be done, said Mr. English, to encourage Serbian refugees to return to Kosovo, a United Nations protectorate since 1999.

Mr. English said if the U.N. review is favorable, Washington will suggest that a senior European diplomat be placed in charge of the final status negotiations. "The status of Kosovo, the future of Kosovo lies in Europe, not only for Kosovo, but for Serbia and Montenegro as well. Both Kosovo and Serbia Montenegro need to understand that the real solution to the question of status lies less in the relationship between Belgrade and Pristina and far more in their respective relations with Brussels (the EU)," he said.

Bruce Jackson, the former U.S. military intelligence officer who heads a non-governmental organization called The Project on Transitional Democracies, agreed that final status negotiations for Kosovo should begin this year. Mr. Jackson said the status quo is no longer sustainable in the troubled Balkan region. To avoid falling back into nationalism and conflict, he said, the entire region must quickly be put on a path towards membership in the European Union. People in the region, he said, must have a goal-a destination-to work towards.

"It is a multi-year idea with status issues addressed in 2005, a concluding EU summit in 2006, and a destination point, notionally in Sarajevo in 2014, by which time every state in the region will be in European institutions-both NATO and the European Union," he said.

Slovenia is the only former Yugoslav republic to have been admitted to the European Union. Bulgaria and Romania are set to join at the beginning of 2007 and Croatia could follow two years later.

Mr. Jackson believes that the wide gap between Belgrade and Pristina over Kosovo independence can be bridged by the prospect of membership in the European Union.

"I think many of the elite in Belgrade recognize that creating a streamlined Serbia without Kosovo and without Montenegro is the best thing for their country. They would be in the EU overnight. And then what would happen is there would be this slip stream effect in which Montenegro and Kosovo would be dragged towards that movement," he said.

Mr. Jackson warned that ten years of constructive western involvement in the Balkans could ultimately fail without bold leadership to fully integrate the region into Euro Atlantic institutions.