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No Breakthrough As Serbs, Kosovar Albanians Hold Talks

Serbian (foreground) and Kosovo Albanian leaders facing off in New York (AFP) September 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For the first time in the presence of the "troika" of EU, Russian, and U.S. mediators, Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders have held direct talks on the future of Serbia's breakaway province.

The meeting took place onSeptember 28 in New York, on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session. Serbian and Kosovar leaders had met twice since international negotiations on the future status of the breakaway province began in 2005, but never before the troika.

Constructive Atmosphere

While the talks yielded no breakthrough, EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger gave a positive assessment while addressing reporters in New York after the meeting.

"The atmosphere was constructive," Ischinger said. "Belgrade presented and elaborated its vision of substantial autonomy for Kosovo. Pristina presented its vision of two independent states which would work together under a treaty arrangement and would envisage to fully implement minority rights as envisaged in the so-called Ahtisaari package."

The Belgrade delegation was led by Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku headed the Pristina delegation.

"I wouldn't want to overestimate the outcome of this face-to-face session, but there is a foundation for continued discussions." -- Russian envoy Botsan-Kharchenko

Russia's envoy, Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, praised both parties for displaying goodwill.

"This morning, I noted interesting signs in the way Belgrade and Pristina presented their positions," Botsan-Kharchenko said. "Both parties seriously thought about ways to establish trust and cooperation. Of course, I wouldn't want to overestimate the outcome of this face-to-face session, but there is a foundation for continued discussions. Parties are demonstrating the ability to talk to each other."

Serbia rejects independence for Kosovo, which has been under UN administration since 1999. But the province's ethnic Albanian leadership says it is determined to obtain sovereignty.

U.S. mediator Frank Wisner told reporters that the so-called New York Declaration was issued following the talks.

"In that declaration, we, the troika, welcomed these first direct talks under our auspices," Wisner said. "We reminded the parties that matters must move forward, that the status quo in the region is not sustainable. Both parties reaffirmed their commitment -- as expressed in the Vienna document of August 30 -- to refrain from any activities or statements that might jeopardize the security situation."

Ischinger said both sides agreed to hold more direct talks, with the next meeting set for Brussels on October 14.

The UN General Assembly is holding its annual general debate, which this year runs from September 25 to October 3.

UN Discusses Iran, Religion

The September 28 gathering saw debate on a number of issues.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany agreed to delay until November a new UN resolution that would toughen sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities. Russia and China, which have closer ties to Iran, have insisted that Tehran must be given more time to comply with UN nuclear inspectors.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau called on the UN to come up with a concrete plan of action to fight human trafficking.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed to create a religious council within the United Nations. He said such a body could provide a forum for different religious denominations to discuss sometimes thorny inter-religious issues.

(RFE/RL New York correspondent Nikola Krastev contributed to this report.)




By Patrick Moore
RFE/RL regional analyst, Balkan and Russian affairs

It is widely expected that Britain and France, along with most of the smaller EU states, will back the position taken by U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in late September that independence for Kosovo "is the only solution that is potentially stabilizing for the Balkans" and that "if the [Europeans] need a stable Balkans, they're going to have to take tough decisions and do the right thing."
Many prominent Italian political figures and scholars at think tanks have strong reservations about an independent Kosovo, which they regard as too poor to be a viable state and hence a likely source of criminal activity. Rome, however, is unlikely to actively oppose any strong pro-independence majority in the EU as a whole.
Germany's position is somewhat ambiguous. Berlin has supplied some of the top international civilian and military officials in Kosovo and is very familiar with the situation on the ground, including the likelihood of violence if the status question is not resolved soon. Some top German experts nonetheless have issued a study in which they outlined a number of alternative approaches to Kosovo's future that stop well short of independence. The report is widely assumed to have been drafted at the request of the Foreign Ministry. The "Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung" criticized the proposals as being too much like those that formed the basis of the short-lived hybrid state of Serbia and Montenegro, which, the paper argued, proved to be a waste of time and resources.
Spain is the only one of the large EU member states that has indicated strong opposition to Kosovo's independence, although some reports suggest that Madrid's opposition has weakened lately. Spain's concern is not wanting to set a precedent for the possible independence of some of its regions, which, like Kosovo under the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions, have strong legal guarantees of autonomy. Romania and Slovakia are similarly concerned about possible secessionist aspirations of their respective Hungarian minorities, which, however, do not enjoy constitutional autonomy on the Kosovar or Catalan models.
Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Cyprus are all bound by traditional feelings of friendship toward Serbia and are sensitive toward Belgrade's point of view.
Hungary is in a special category. As was the case during the wars of the 1990s, Budapest is very careful not to offend Belgrade lest the Serbian authorities vent their displeasure on the large ethnic Hungarian minority in Vojvodina.

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