5 Min Read
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU leaders are expected to agree this week that efforts to reach a negotiated solution to the Kosovo problem are exhausted, and offer to take responsibility for security and justice in the breakaway Serbian province.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Sunday "artificial deadlines" for finding a solution to Kosovo's status were not binding and could raise risks to stability.
EU negotiator Wolfgang Ischinger will brief European Union foreign ministers on Monday on the results of four months of mediation efforts and urge them to help stabilize the Balkan territory by sending in police and justice officials soon.
Leaders of the 27-nation bloc are expected to declare in a statement at a summit on Friday that negotiations are at an end and that the future of both Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union, diplomats said.
They are also likely to confirm they are willing to dispatch police and justice missions and appoint a high representative to oversee Kosovo if asked by the Kosovo Albanian government and the United Nations Secretary-General.
"It is clear that the future of Serbia and Kosovo lies in the European Union. That's something that both sides agree on," EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in an interview with Germany's Welt am Sonntag newspaper.
A troika of EU, U.S. and Russian mediators told U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in a report on Friday that their mission failed because neither side was willing to give way on the fundamental question of sovereignty over Kosovo. The troika had been given a December 10 deadline to complete its report.
"We were given 120 days but if we had been given 1,200 days the outcome would have been the same," an aide quoted Ischinger as telling Solana.
The next step is for the U.N. Security Council to debate the mediators' report on December 19 and try to agree on a resolution.
Agreement looks impossible since Russia continues to back Belgrade's rejection of independence for Kosovo, which Western powers see as the only viable and durable solution. Moscow and Belgrade have called for more talks.
Four or five of the 27 EU states, notably Cyprus and Greece, have misgivings about recognizing a unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovo Albanians out of fear of a precedent for ethnic or national groups at home.
Kosovo's Albanians appealed to the West on Sunday to back their bid for independence. A joint statement from government and opposition leaders said: "The people of Kosovo urgently need clarity about their future."
EU leaders are likely to duck the independence question for now and focus on what they can agree on, while stressing the importance of staying united after they sign a major treaty to reform their institutions on Thursday in Lisbon.
Solana told Welt am Sonntag: "I'm confident that Belgrade and Pristina will keep their word not to resort to violence and will do nothing that could threaten security in Kosovo or elsewhere."
Lavrov, visiting Cyprus on Sunday, said unilateral independence for Kosovo would undermine international law and could trigger violence.
"Artificial deadlines imposed by outsiders will not work, and we believe that in the case of Kosovo these deadlines are not binding," he told journalists.
"We are convinced that a unilateral act, steps which do not comply with international law but rather undermine international law .... entail many risks and more time needs to be given for a mutually acceptable agreement," Lavrov said.
Cyprus Foreign Minister Erato Kozakou-Markoullis said her government wanted a U.N.-backed negotiated settlement.
"Otherwise we risk undermining the whole U.N. system and its institutions, and this could create a very dangerous precedent," she said, a reference to the fear the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus could also gain recognition.
"It's regrettable that the EU member states, due to their respective domestic situations, have reached different conclusions," EU special coordinator for the Stability Pact for South Eastern Europe, Erhard Busek, told Germany's Tagesspiegel.
"The different positions of EU states on the issue of Kosovo's status invite Russia and China to interfere," he said in an article to appear on Monday in the Berlin daily.
Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Michele Kambas in Cyprus and James Kilner in Moscow; Editing by Janet Lawrence