The U.N. Security Council has endorsed Secretary-General Kofi Annan's decision to begin talks on the sensitive issue of the future of Kosovo. Mr. Annan will name former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari to lead the negotiations.
The Security Council adopted a statement Monday supporting the start of negotiations on the final status of the secessionist Serbian province. But the endorsement came after two U.N. envoys warned that the talks are fraught with possibly insurmountable obstacles.
Serbia's Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica signaled the difficulties ahead. In a speech to the Council, he ruled out any solution that might result in Kosovo's independence. He said Serbia would not tolerate any decision imposed from outside that would affect his country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
"We find it inconceivable, as do I'm sure the members of this august body, that solutions should be imposed against its will on any democracy. Any attempt at imposing such a solution through de facto legalization of a partition of Serbia that is through forcible secession of a part of its territory would be tantamount not only to legal violence against the democratic state, but against international law itself," Mr. Kostunica says.
Aware of the delicacy of the talks ahead, Secretary-General Kofi Annan said Monday will soon name a seasoned negotiator, former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, to act as mediator.
The decision to appoint a mediator came after Mr. Annan's special envoy to the region, Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide, recommended this month that talks begin. In his recommendation, Mr. Eide admitted there had been scant progress in the implementation of democratic standards set by the world body as a condition for starting the talks.
But U.N. diplomats concluded that there was a shared expectation in both the Serbian capital, Belgrade, and the Kosovo capital, Pristina, that it was time to move the process forward.
After briefing the Council Monday, Mr. Eide gave a sober assessment of the prospects for success.
"I think it's quite clear that both sides come into this process with diametrically opposed positions from the outset. It's going to be a very hard process to bring them together, but I think it's important to see that all sides are brought into this process and we try to bring them, not only keep them inside the process but bring them forward inside the process," Mr. Eide says.
As a sign of just how deep the disagreements are, Kosovo's U.N. appointed administrator Soren Jessen-Petersen says the talks would initially be done through shuttle diplomacy, with the mediator meeting each side separately. He said face-to-face talks would be likely only after some initial progress.
"Desirable as it would be to imagine that you could have two delegations sitting opposite each other and start agreeing on status, it's not realistic," Mr. Jessen-Petersen says. "There will be a need for status envoy to conduct shuttle diplomacy, move around trying to get a better idea of where the positions are, where is the flexibility, and on that basis try producing what could be a framework."
Mr. Annan says the appointment of Mr. Ahtisaari as status envoy could come within days. The talks on Kosovo's future are likely to begin next month. The United States has said it will also name a special envoy to participate in the talks.
Kosovo has been run by a U.N. mission, with a strong NATO peacekeeping presence, since 1999. The region's ethnic Albanian majority wants full independence. But the Serb minority and the government in Belgrade say while the province should have broad autonomy, it should remain within Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia.