U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday Serbia and Kosovo will never be part of the same country again, and all those concerned should work for a stable outcome in the Balkans based on that reality. At a year-end news conference, Rice promised dialogue with Serbia and Russia, which have opposed Kosovar independence. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Rice stopped short of endorsing a timetable for Kosovo independence, but she made clear her expectation that the majority-Albanian Serbian province will soon be on its own, and urged all concerned parties to accept that reality.

A final round of talks between Kosovar and Serbian officials mediated by the United States, the European Union and Russia ended inconclusively earlier this month.

Serbia, backed by its ally Moscow, had offered a maximum degree of autonomy but not independence for the region.

In the aftermath of the talks, U.S. and European Union officials have made clear they favor giving Kosovo supervised independence under the plan presented last March by U.N. special envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

Kosovar leaders in Pristina have said they will announce independence early in the coming year.

Asked about such a prospect, Rice said it will be important to take decisions about Kosovo's status in the next several weeks, and that not doing so would be destabilizing:

"The fact is that Kosovo and Serbia are never going to be part of the same state again. I think that's quite clear. It was the logic even of (UN Resolution) 1244 on the special status accorded Kosovo as a result of the war. And the important thing is for these two peoples to get on with their futures," she said.

Kosovo has been under U.N. administration since 1999 under terms of Security Council Resolution 1244.

The measure was approved after a NATO air campaign drove out Serbian troops who were trying to crush a separatist uprising by ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Rice said the United States is working closely with the European Union, reaching out to the Kosovars to stress their responsibilities under the Ahtisaari plan, while assuring Serbia of its future in European institutions if it accepts a transition.

The Ahtisaari plan includes elaborate safeguards for the rights of Kosovo's Serb minority. NATO has 16-thousand peacekeeping troops in Kosovo and has promised to keep them there indefinitely. The European Union last week pledged to send 18-hundred police and administrative officials to further assure security.

Rice said earlier this week she does not expect Russia or Serbia to threaten Kosovars or destabilize the Balkans and said it is in the interest of neither to do so.

In interview comments Friday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow will veto any effort within the United Nations to make Kosovo independent. He said dealing with the matter outside of the U.N. would be a step toward the demise of the world body.

Moscow argues that recognizing Kosovo over Belgrade's objections would set a dangerous precedent for other European regions where separatist sentiments are high.