HEILIGENDAMM, Germany (Reuters) - Major powers at the G8 summit on Thursday edged towards a compromise over the breakaway Serbian province of Kosovo which would involve delaying a vote on its independence at the United Nations.
Russia is frustrating Western efforts to adopt a U.N. resolution that would clear the way for independence and French President Nicolas Sarkozy told reporters he had suggested a six month delay in any vote to find more time for a deal.
A source with another delegation said the G8 leaders had agreed to postpone the vote “for some period of time”, but there was no immediate official confirmation of this and Sarkozy made clear the West wanted concessions from Russia.
“The proposal I made is that President Putin recognize — these words have a meaning — the unavoidable prospect of Kosovo’s independence,” Sarkozy said, adding that violence could flare if the international community was divided over the issue.
A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, denied a deal had been struck: “I’m told that discussions remain ongoing,” the official said.
Russia has traditionally been a strong ally of Serbia, whose government refuses to brook independence for Kosovo. The United States and the European Union believe Kosovo’s independence is an inevitability that Russia and Serbia will have to accept.
NATO forces intervened in Kosovo eight years ago to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians by Serb forces and ethnic Albanian leaders are pushing the West to back a unilateral declaration of independence if Russia vetos the U.N. resolution.
Sarkozy said under his proposal Serbia and Kosovo would be pressured into negotiating a “better status” than that currently proposed, giving the two sides six months to reach agreement.
“After six months, either Belgrade and Pristina have found a better status and in that case, it is that one that applies, or they haven’t found it, and in that case it is the Ahtisaari solution that would apply,” he said.
U.N. mediator Martti Ahtisaari’s plan sets out the framework of a Kosovo state.
Ten thousand Albanians died in Serbia’s 1998-99 counter-insurgency war before the United Nations took control. The West sees no prospect of forcing 2 million Albanians — 90 percent of the population — back into the arms of Belgrade.
The United States had forecast a U.N. vote this week, but has apparently retreated in the face of the threatened veto and Sarkozy made clear he wanted to avoid a split with Moscow.
“I think we have to avoid heading straight away towards a conflict,” he told a news conference. “Violence would risk flaring up and I don’t see who would emerge a winner.”
“I don’t say this is perfect but it avoids a division that would be dramatic,” he added.
G8 leaders’ main diplomatic advisers, the so-called “sherpas” and political directors, would work on the proposal on Thursday night, the French president said.