UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The U.N. Security Council failed to agree on a plan for Kosovo after it declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, and Western countries said the European Union and NATO should take responsibility for the region’s stability.
An emergency council meeting called by Russia was unable to heal differences between Serbia’s ally Moscow, which says the independence declaration is illegal, and Western states that maintain it is the only viable option after talks failed.
A statement issued after the meeting by seven Western nations left little doubt that they would be recognizing majority ethnic-Albanian Kosovo but stopped short of saying so outright. A lead is expected from the EU, whose foreign ministers will meet on Monday.
“We regret that the Security Council cannot agree on the way forward, but this impasse has been clear for many months,” Belgian Ambassador Johan Verbeke said.
“Today’s events ... represent the conclusion of a status process that has exhausted all avenues in pursuit of a negotiated outcome,” he said in a statement agreed by Belgium, France, Italy, Britain, Croatia, Germany and the United States. It was also backed by current EU president Slovenia.
The EU will be taking over police and justice functions from U.N. staff, though a U.N. mission will remain in Kosovo.
Council president Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias of Panama confirmed to journalists that the differences between the West and Russia “remain basically the same”.
The Western statement said the status quo in Kosovo “had become unsustainable and a coordinated and stable process, with international support is better than prolonged instability.”
It said a 1999 U.N. resolution provided the framework for transition to “a sustainable new status” for Kosovo — a position contested by Russia, which says the resolution requires the U.N. to nullify an independence declaration.
“It is not obvious at all what could possibly be the legal basis for even considering the recognition of this unilateral declaration of independence,” Russian ambassador Vitaly Churkin told reporters.
“Our position is that this declaration should be disregarded by the international community and should be declared null and void by the head of UNMIK” — the U.N. mission in Kosovo which has run the province for nine years.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry had earlier warned the United Nations that Kosovo’s declaration of independence could cause an escalation in ethnic violence.
But British Ambassador John Sawers said after the council session: “No country supported the proposal from Russia that the declaration be declared null and void. Everybody recognized that the situation had indeed moved on.”
Despite the deadlock at Sunday’s closed session, Russia and Serbia have requested a second, open council meeting on Monday with Serbian President Boris Tadic present. Western envoys said they would not oppose that meeting.
Earlier on Sunday, the speaker of the Kosovo parliament announced that the majority ethnic Albanian region was now “an independent, sovereign and democratic state,” after deputies voted to adopt a declaration of independence.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who attended Sunday’s council meeting, urged Serbs and Albanians to refrain from violence or any statement that could jeopardize peace.
“I call on all sides to reaffirm and act upon their commitments to refrain from any actions or statements that could endanger peace, incite violence or jeopardize security in Kosovo or the region,” Ban told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau)
Editing by Alan Elsner