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Kosovo Wants Talks With Serbia; Belgrade Says 'No'

UNITED NATIONS -- Kosovo's foreign minister has said he was ready for direct talks with Serbia, but his Serbian counterpart said Belgrade would not talk with a "secessionist" government.

Kosovo, which has an ethnic-Albanian majority, declared independence from Belgrade in February. Some 43 countries, mostly Western, have recognized Europe's youngest state, although Serbia and its ally Russia say they never will.

"Pristina is ready to engage in practical talks with Belgrade on a wide range of issues," Kosovo Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni told reporters on July 25 after addressing the UN Security Council. "We are ready to talk directly to Belgrade."

But he made it clear that Kosovo's status as a sovereign country was not up for negotiation.

"Independence of Kosovo is not negotiable and it can never be negotiated again," Hyseni said. "That is over. That is history."

His Serbian counterpart, Vuk Jeremic, reiterated to the 15-nation council that Belgrade was open to compromises but did not want UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to press ahead with a plan to hand over police authority in Kosovo to the European Union, as spelled out in Ban's latest report to the council.

Jeremic told reporters that Belgrade would not talk with Pristina, although it could discuss Kosovo with Ban, his special envoy to Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, and other UN officials.

"We are not prepared to engage in discussions with the secessionist provisional authorities of Kosovo," he said.

Zannier told the council the United Nations had been marginalized in most of Kosovo as the country's authorities had taken over virtually all administrative duties from the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

"While I and my staff continue to monitor the work of Kosovo authorities and to mediate and facilitate in disputes between communities, my power to impose solutions has in practice disappeared," Zannier said.

Russian Opposition

UNMIK continues to play an active role in the parts of Kosovo where the country's Serbian minority is located.

A 2,200-member EU police mission is waiting to deploy in Kosovo. But Russia, like Serbia, strongly opposes an EU takeover.

Russia's UN ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, told Reuters that UNMIK should not be preparing to exit Kosovo when it is legally in charge on the basis of a UN resolution from 1999.

He also disagreed that Zannier was becoming increasingly useless in Kosovo. "He is increasingly useful," Churkin said. "He should not give in easily."

Ban ordered UNMIK to begin preparing to hand over police authority to the EU because the divided Security Council had been unable to pass any resolution that would replace or amend the 1999 resolution on UNMIK.

Hyseni said Kosovo was sending envoys around the world to trumpet the country's successes and to urge them to recognize it as a sovereign state. He predicted many more countries would recognize Kosovo.

He added that Kosovo would eventually apply for UN membership. It has already applied for membership in the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.

Russia, a permanent veto-wielding member of the Security Council, has the power to keep Kosovo out of the United Nations and has said it would use that power.