He expressed confidence in the newly elected ethnic Albanian leadership and said he expected positive results when the international review of the standards process is issued this summer.
Jessen-Petersen said it is time to pursue a clear timetable to resolve Kosovo's status to avoid what he called "prolonging the pain and increasing the risks for the region." He added: "Should that [summer] review conclude that sufficient progress has been made, the international community should be prepared to embark on a process leading to status talks. My evaluation is that we have good chances of keeping this timetable and that the process leading to status talks could therefore begin in the second half of this year."
Jessen-Petersen said he would not prejudge those status talks but stressed that he remained opposed to any calls for a partition of Kosovo. He said partition would be unrealistic and likely to further inflame divisions. "All talk about partition of Kosovo becomes an agenda for those who may be eager to reignite the divisions and the flames of the past," Jessen-Petersen said. "Partition would betray European values of integration and coexistence. Partition would also sacrifice the 60 percent of Kosovo Serbs who do not live in the north."
But the Serb official coordinating affairs in Kosovo, Nebojsa Covic, stressed that conditions are far worse than portrayed by Jessen-Petersen.
He told the council there remains a lack of basic security for Serbs, who are unable to move unescorted. He criticized a wide range of areas the UN administration is charged with helping to improve, such as rule of law and access to media. "There are unjustifiably optimistic assessments," Covic said, "that after six years of poor results, there will be a turnaround and major progress in just a few months, thus creating the conditions for negotiations on the future status of the province."
Jessen-Petersen responded later, saying that Covic had made a number of statements "totally out of touch with the reality on the ground."
Key members of the international Contact Group on Kosovo who serve on the Council -- Russia, France, Britain, and the United States -- stressed that the province's future could not be decided until the basic standards on democracy and minority rights had been achieved.
U.S. envoy Stuart Holliday's comments reflected the mood of many members. "It is important that more be done, particularly in securing the rights of refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes, ensuring security for all communities and reforming local government," Holliday said. "The momentum and focus that has been applied in recent months must continue, especially at the local level, where progress in some of these areas has thus far been insufficient."
Jessen-Petersen delivers his next status report in May, the last council meeting before a comprehensive review of the province's reforms is undertaken.