The Bush administration is preparing a diplomatic initiative aimed at speeding international negotiations on the final status of Kosovo. The largely ethnic-Albanian region, still technically a Serbian province, has been administered by the United Nations since 1999.
Overshadowed by the Iraq war and other issues, the situation in Kosovo has simmered for the last several years with little discussion of what a final settlement there will look like.

But the Bush administration, concerned by the impasse, is seeking to restore momentum with a strategy aimed at getting U.N. sponsored final-status negotiations going, perhaps by the end of the year.

The U.S. plan, the product of intensive consultations with European allies, is to be outlined in a congressional appearance Wednesday by the State Department's third-ranking official, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns.

Details of the plan have not been released. But the Washington Post reported Tuesday it would entail the naming of a U.N. envoy to assess whether Kosovo is ready for final-status talks.

Once that certification is made, and U.S. officials strongly suggest that it should be, the United Nations will convene negotiations on whether Kosovo will become independent, remain part of Serbia, or have some form of hybrid status.

The international community had held off on final-status talks, pending achievement in Kosovo of a list of standards on such issues as self-governance, the return of refugees, and protection of the rights of the Serb minority.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Richard Boucher said the United States and its European partners have come to the conclusion that achievement of the standards and negotiations on Kosovo's final status can, and should, proceed in tandem:

?We and the U.N. and others have been working to try to create a more stable situation through the achievement of what are called standards of democracy, of good governance, of openness, or welcoming of Serbs and others to move back to their homes,? said Mr. Boucher.  ?But that process can only go so far without defining the status. The people who are involved in that situation want to know, in the end, what they're going to be living in, what they're going to be part of.?

Mr. Boucher said there was no pre-ordained outcome for Kosovo's final status, but that the United States and its allies want matter decided so the Balkans region can be stabilized and find its destiny in Europe and Euro-Atlantic institutions.

Kosovo has been a U.N. protectorate since 1999, when a U.S.-led NATO air campaign ended former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic's military crackdown on independence-minded ethnic Albanians.

NATO has more than 20,000 troops in Kosovo which, despite the security presence, has seen outbreaks of ethnic violence including a rampage by ethnic-Albanians in early 2004 that left 19 Serbs dead and hundreds wounded.

Former Clinton administration diplomat Richard Holbrooke, a key figure in the Dayton accords that ended the war in Bosnia, warned in a commentary last month that Kosovo was inherently unstable, and that NATO troops would be there indefinitely unless there was an acceleration of efforts for a final-status accord.

Mr. Holbrooke predicts that Kosovo, and eventually also Montenegro, will become independent from Serbia, but that under such a scenario Serbia would have a bright future as a European Union member along with the other parts of the former Yugoslavia.

The Washington Post said the Bush administration will combine its diplomatic push on Kosovo with a warning to Serbia that a normal relationship with the United States and NATO depends on the capture of former Bosnian-Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic.

They are the most prominent indicted Balkans war crimes figures still at large.