U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told a Congressional committee yesterday that this would be a “year of decision” for Kosovo. He also said Kosovo's final status must be based on multiethnicity with full respect for human rights, including the right of all refugees and displaced persons to return to their homes in safety.
Burns said Washington would work with the UN and the Contact Group -- Britain, France, Italy, Russia, and Germany -- to launch a process to determine Kosovo’s status.
Jessen-Petersen told RFE/RL Burns’ comments would send a positive signal to the region.
“Any doubts, as it were, as to whether the U.S. was still fully engaged would be a problem. Now there should be no doubts whatsoever. This does convey a very strong message in the region and that will be very helpful,” Jessen-Petersen said.
Kosovo’s majority Albanians want independence from Serbia while Belgrade supports a position of “more than autonomy but less than independence” for Kosovo.
Burns is due to give another policy speech on Kosovo today. Jessen-Petersen, meanwhile, is to make an address to the UN Security Council next week that will likely trigger a process leading to a final status review.
The UN envoy said he will report progress by Kosovar Albanian leaders during the past three months, especially in improving security. But he also finds problems in areas such as minority returns, saying they remain “far too low.”
“None of the so-called priority standards have been entirely implemented so there are some shortcomings and they have to work very hard over the next several months in particular on promoting much bigger returns and also improve freedom of movement in areas where it’s still a problem,” Jessen-Petersen said.
Jessen-Petersen said Kosovo leaders are not moving quickly enough on decentralization of power to local governments. It is believed that by moving control of issues such as health, education, and law enforcement to the local level, Serbs and other minorities would have a greater role in exercising their rights.
Burns in his statement Wednesday pressed for greater decentralization of powers. He also called for an end to parallel, Belgrade-funded institutions in places like Mitrovica.
Jessen-Petersen welcomed such comments.
“If [the Americans] go in with clear messages, the Albanians listen. I work very closely with the Contact Group members on the ground. But I do know that a clear, strong U.S. message urging, for example, more progress on decentralization, is a message that the Albanians listen to,” Jessen-Petersen said.
An article in "The Washington Post" this week quoted “a senior administration official” as saying Russia was beginning to express reservations with an accelerated timeline for Kosovo.
Jessen-Petersen expressed hope Russia would remain in agreement on key issues with other Contact Group members.
“I think it’s fair to say that throughout the process Russia has asked more questions at times [and] been a little more skeptical as to the rate of progress but by and large Russia is certainly on board with the Contact Group,” Jessen-Petersen said.
After next week’s council meeting, UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is expected to ask Norwegian diplomat Kai Eide to assess whether Kosovo is ready for final status talks.
Burns told Congress he expected the UN and the Contact Group to consider Eide’s assessment this autumn and decide whether to launch a political process on Kosovo’s status.
Analysis: More Talks, More Models For Disputed Province