DiCarlo took part in talks in New York last week with the six-country Kosovo Contact Group, which issued a statement saying the reforms "must be at the heart of Kosovo's future." She said the group -- which includes Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia, and the United States -- wanted to continue to see concrete reforms alongside any political process that is started.
"Our statement was really more one to say we're anticipating launching, if indeed we get the positive recommendation, we have every intent to go full-speed ahead," DiCarlo said. "We want to see a continued implementation of standards, of reforms. This is something that will continue and should continue throughout the process if it's launched. And obviously we do encourage both sides to continue their dialogue."
Kosovo, a province of 2 million people, remains legally part of Serbia, but became a UN protectorate in 1999 following the NATO-led war to oust Serbian troops. Ninety percent of the population is ethnic Albanian and they overwhelmingly want independence, while Serbian officials say only wider autonomy is possible.
United Nations envoy Kai Eide is expected to issue a report soon on the province's readiness for final status talks. DiCarlo said a report Eide issued last year on tensions in Kosovo helped focus the reform effort.
Chief among the standards are improved conditions for Kosovo's minority Serb community, which has returned only in small numbers because of fears of violence and intimidation.
"I think that we all agree that progress has been made on the ground in Kosovo. It's a question of whether the progress is sufficient at this point or not," DiCarlo said. "But we've seen a number of things happen over the last couple of years -- implementation of laws, attempts at greater decentralization, things that basically would enable Kosovo to be a multiethnic society and function quite properly respecting the rights of minorities. So some progress has been made and we know that additional progress needs to be made as well."
Eide will report to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will then make his recommendation on status talks to the UN Security Council some time next month.
DiCarlo said she expects the informal Contact Group to stay united through the process.
"We all have agreed to certain, let's say, principles and partition is one, no use of force is another, no unilateral action is yet a third," DiCarlo said. "So I think that we will see, I mean Russia has been an active member of the Contact Group. I think we will see again cooperation and the kind of constructive engagement we've had the last couple of years."
UN and Contact Group officials have been noncommittal about the province's future status. But a European diplomat told Reuters this week that there was a plan to negotiate toward "conditional independence" for Kosovo.
The chief of the U.S. mission in Kosovo, Philip Goldberg, told RFE/RL last week he envisioned the European Union and United States playing a key partnership role with provincial leaders.
"What I think we do know is that -- in areas like judiciary and in areas that require a continued international presence after the final status decision -- that we will do it in a way that is not top-down necessarily, where the international community, as has been the case in the last six years, is running Kosovo, but rather more of a partnership, one that leads Kosovo towards those European institutions and integration with the rest of the region," Goldberg said.
DiCarlo also mentioned the importance of integration efforts, saying all of the former Yugoslavia was entering a pivotal period. She said the United States intends to play a leading role in this new phase.
"We see the region as entering a new stage right now. We think this is a really important year, this year and next year, it's really a year for a lot of decisions but we're entering a new stage and that stage, we would hope, would accelerate the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," DiCarlo said. "So we do see U.S. involvement as an important issue here."
Serbia and Montenegro received a boost yesterday when EU ambassadors agreed to open talks on a Stabilization and Association Agreement. The accord puts countries on track to eventually join the EU.
(Arbana Vidishiqi of the Kosovo Subunit of RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service contributed to this report.)