When asked whether an international negotiating team for Kosovo faces an impossible mission in getting Serbs and Kosovo Albanians to agree on a plan for the territory's future, one of the three diplomats involved replied, "No, not mission impossible, mission difficult." VOA's Barry Wood has more from the Kosovo capital, Pristina.

Russian, German and American negotiators, who call themselves "the troika", are trying to succeed where others have failed.

One of the world's most experienced conflict-resolution specialists, Martti Ahtisaari of Finland, spent the better part of a year trying in vain to bridge the wide gap between Belgrade and Pristina.

Serbia opposes anything beyond widespread autonomy for its breakaway province. Kosovo's 90 percent ethnic Albanian majority say they will settle for nothing less than independence. Kosovo has been run by the United Nations for eight years, since NATO bombing forced the Serbian authorities, who were fighting ethnic Albanian separatists, out of the province.

When Mr. Ahtisaari determined there was no chance the two sides could come together, the major powers asked him to develop his own plan for the future status of Kosovo. That blueprint for conditional independence with security guarantees for minorities was rejected last month by Russia, which threatened to use its Security Council veto to block implementation.

The United States has indicated that it would recognize a Kosovo declaration of independence, but stresses the importance of obtaining U.N. Security Council endorsement.

Moscow insisted that there should be an additional push to find consensus among Serbs and Albanians. In response the six-nation contact group on Kosovo set up the three-member negotiating team to undertake a further round of negotiations to be completed by December 10.

But the Russian negotiator, Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, says that is a tall order.

"I have no illusions," he said. "You see, and I realize, how difficult this mission is. But this commitment we got during this opening session in Pristina is extremely important."

Kosovo's leaders say they still insist on independence, but pledged Saturday to work with the three negotiators in seeking common ground with Serbia on the territory's future.

U.S. diplomat Frank Wisner said the troika will not present the parties with new proposals on Kosovo's future, but will mediate between the former foes. The diplomats have also pledged to look at every angle in their efforts to find a solution.

Analysts say the success of Russian diplomacy in getting the new negotiations launched is the result of discord within the 27-nation European Union, which is expected to play a significant political and security role in Kosovo's future.

Some EU nations have backed away from supporting the Ahtisaari plan, suggesting they will not recognize a Kosovo declaration of independence in the event the negotiations fail.

Ilir Dugolli, who heads Kosovo's non-government Institute for Policy Research, says after eight years of U.N. rule, the delay in determining status is having a negative impact among ethnic Albanians.

"You see a bit of disappointment, a bit of frustration, you see a bit of uncertainty. And you see a bit of anxiety about how this process will be concluded and whether consensus within the European Union, primarily, will be established," said Dugolli.

Dugolli says he is distressed to hear some EU diplomats speak about territorial partition as a fall back solution. That would divide the predominately Serb and Albanian areas of Kosovo, but he says it is a dangerous idea.

"Because then immediately Albanians would ask for something else in return, the Presevo Valley [in Serbia proper]," he added. "Or it could have movements even in Macedonia or you do not know what would happen in Republika Serpska [in Bosnia] or other areas. So it is extremely risky and dangerous."

The troika negotiations have just begun. Both sides are pledging cooperation. And while few experts anticipate success, they stress that much can happen during the next few months.