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US Says Most Security Council Members Back Independent Kosovo

Washington's ambassador at the United Nations says most Security Council members back a plan to grant supervised independence to Kosovo. But as VOA's correspondent at the U.N. Peter Heinlein reports, veto-wielding Russia remains opposed to the plan.

America's U.N. ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad, told the Security Council Thursday delaying a decision on Kosovo's future is a prescription for rising resentment and economic stagnation in the Balkan region.

He said the Council's recent mission to Belgrade and Pristina had convinced him that talks on Kosovo's future are hopelessly deadlocked, and Council action is necessary.

"I understand that there is no potential for compromise on the independence question," he said. "Nothing further from these talks can come about, and no potential for passage of time to change the polarization in the foreseeable future. I think delay on the other hand has great potential to destabilize Kosovo and the Balkans."

The United States and European powers have signaled an intention to put the issue to an early vote in the Security Council. Ambassador Khalilzad says a formal resolution could be introduced as early as Friday. He says most Council members back a recommendation from special U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari that the region be granted supervised independence.

"I believe the votes are there for supporting the Ahtisaari Plan, assuming there is no Russian veto," he said.

Khalilzad said that he has not heard any Russian veto threat.

A short time later, however, Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, refused to rule out a veto. Speaking to reporters, he noted what he called "irreconcilable differences" between elements of a U.S. and European-backed resolution that endorse the Ahtisaari proposal, and a separate set of Russian elements calling for more negotiations.

"There are some points in those elements that clearly cannot be reconciled," he said. "So this is why there are two separate documents now on the table. So we have a difficult problem before us. We believe this problem requires further negotiations."

At the same time, Churkin said Russia understands that what he called "the status quo" in Kosovo cannot continue. He said Moscow is prepared to accept a transfer of the region's administration from United Nations to European Union control.

But he argued that independence would set a precedent by violating the territorial integrity of a U.N. member state.

"We understand and appreciate that the European Union is very actively involved and prepared to take over the main political role in Kosovo," he said. "We don't mind that. I could easily see a formula where as the talks between Belgrade and Pristina continue, the European Union could take over from the U.N., but it is an issue of broad international significance, and in a situation where never before has a part of a country, an autonomous region, been, never before it has been proposed that they be given independence, this is a threshold situation in terms of international law."

Backers of Kosovo's independence call it a unique case in view of the genocide that occurred there in the 1990s, leading to the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.

Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since 1999, after a NATO bombing campaign ended a brutal crackdown by Serbian forces against the province's Albanians.