Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Kosovo diplomacy heats up ahead of key talks

ISN SECURITY WATCH -One week before the UN Security Council (UNSC) begins a new diplomatic offensive over Kosovo’s future, a major public and private diplomacy campaign already has Serbs, Albanians, and foreign diplomats involved in the issue.

On 27 May, the UNSC is set to discuss the fate of the province, which, although technically part of Serbia, has effectively been a UN protectorate since the end of NATO’s bombing campaign in 1999.

Diplomatic sources told ISN Security Watch that the Contact Group, which represents the major powers involved in the Balkans, had recommended to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that he appoint Kai Eide, Norway's ambassador to NATO, to begin an examination of the situation in Kosovo.

If the resulting report is favorable, Annan will appoint another envoy in the fall to begin talks on the final status of the province.

These talks could last six to nine months, and unless a consensus on the future of Kosovo can be reached between the Serbs and Albanians – a highly unlikely scenario - the UN Security Council might decide to impose a solution, which could take some form of “conditional independence”.

Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, was due to discuss the diplomatic offensive in congressional testimony on Wednesday.

In the run-up to the 27 May meeting, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has proposed holding talks next week with his Kosovar Albanian counterpart, Bajram Kosumi. Serbian President Boris Tadic has also invited Kosovo Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova to talk.

Kosumi has accepted the idea of talks in principle, but both sides can be expected to be more concerned with scoring points than with the substance of the talks.

Kostunica is keen to present Serbia as the party of compromise. Serbian leaders say the solution for Kosovo must be “more than autonomy, but less than independence”.

Kosumi, who like all Kosovar Albanian leaders will settle for nothing less than independence, is interested in talks because achieving dialog with Belgrade is one of the key “Standards” that the UN has set for Kosovo.

In private, there is now intense discussion as to who will be asked to become the UN’s “status envoy” between Belgrade and the Kosovo capital Pristina. That diplomat will likely start work next September.

Four names are currently being discussed. They are former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, former NATO secretary-general Lord George Robertson, and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

Diplomatic sources told ISN Security Watch that as things stood now, Ahtisaari was regarded as by far the strongest candidate.(By Tim Judah in London)

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