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UN To Call High-Level Kosovo Status Talks This Month

U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari briefed a Security Council session Thursday on his efforts to determine Kosovo's future status. Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica also attended the closed-door session.

Afterward, Ahtisaari told reporters he will convene the highest-level meeting yet between ethnic Albanian and Serbian negotiators in an attempt to narrow deep differences on the sensitive question.

"The idea of this meeting is it will be first time the political leadership on both sides have a chance to present their case, how they see the status issue, then we will continue discussions on the technical issues so long as we can see we are making progress and narrowing the gaps," said Martti Ahtisaari.

Serbia's Prime Minister Kostunica explained to the Council his country's long-held position that it would never accept Kosovo's independence demand. In an article in the Washington Post newspaper this week, Kostunica said Serbia would offer Kosovo's majority ethnic Albanians "the greatest possible autonomy".

The Kosovo president, Mr. Sejdiu told the Council that the region's majority population would not compromise on their independence demand.

Western powers have said the most likely outcome of the status talks would be a promise of some sort of independence for Kosovo before the end of the year. But Russia, a traditional Serb ally with a Security Council veto, has objected, saying there should be no 'artificial timetable" for a settlement.

Russia's U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin emerged from the Security Council saying Moscow opposes the idea of imposing a solution on Kosovo.

"I stated that I don't believe that the international community has legal, political, or moral ground to force Serbia into a solution on this issue," said Vitaly Churkin. "There is plenty of opportunity for all sides to have their discussions. And the only stable solution, the only solution good for regional and global stability, would be a solution negotiated between two sides."

U.N. diplomats say Serbia's Prime Minister Kostunica and President Boris Tadic will be invited to join the status talks, along with Kosovo's President Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku. A spokesman for Mr. Ahtisaari says the talks could begin in Vienna the week of July 24.