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U.N. Security Council Deadlocked over Kosovo

The U.N. Security Council is deadlocked over what to do about Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo.

The U.N. has been running the region since 1999 after NATO helped end a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanians there. Intense negotiations about Kosovo's status have failed to bridge the gap between the parties. Now, the Kosovo Albanians are planning to declare independence, and Serbia is warning that could set a dangerous precedent.

The Security Council debate pitted not just the Kosovo delegation against Serbia — which wants to retain the province — but also the U.S. and Europe against Russia.

Unlike his Western counterparts, Russia's Ambassador Vitaly Churkin said he still believes the impasse can be resolved with more talks on Kosovo's status.

Russians Optimistic

"It did show that there are pessimists, and there are optimists in the council. One thing I can tell you, we are among the optimists; the other thing is we are certainly not alone in being optimists; and the third thing is the optimists base their opinion on the solid ground of international law," Churkin said.

U.S. and European diplomats said months of intensive talks and the Security Council debate had shown the world that the positions of Serbia and Kosovo are irreconcilable and the status quo is no longer tolerable. U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad made one final pitch in favor of supervised independence for Kosovo — an idea put forward earlier this year by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari.

"The time has come to move forward," Khalilzad said. "I did call on our Russian colleague, Ambassador Churkin, one final time to embrace the Ahtisaari plan as the sensible way forward with council endorsement."

Churkin said he was not about to change his mind, and he urged the U.N. to disregard any move by Kosovo to unilaterally declare independence.

But that is exactly what is expected given the diplomatic deadlock.

Kosovo's President Fatmir Sejdiu said that Kosovars are exhausted after years of isolation, war and political limbo, and they plan to move ahead with independence with backing from most of Europe and the U.S.

"We are ready to take steps toward a future declaration of the independence of Kosovo together with our friends. The independence of Kosovo is not against anyone it will not harm anyone," Sejdiu said.

Serbia Won't Use Force

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said he would declare any independence move by Kosovo to be null and void. And he suggested Serbia might try to take legal actions against any country that recognizes an independent Kosovo.

Kostunica said he would defend Serbia's territorial integrity with everything in his country's diplomatic arsenal — but he would not use force.

"There is something that is much stronger than war and weapons," Kostunica said. It is this weapon that Serbia has at this moment. It is full respect of law and international law, and it is very clear that is the official position of the Serbian government. We will keep on defending in that manner Serbia."

Serbia and Russia have repeatedly warned that if Kosovo declares independence it would set a dangerous precedent for other ethnic enclaves in the world.

Khalilzad argued before the council that Kosovo is in a unique situation. He said the policies of ethnic cleansing pursued by former Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic against Kosovo Albanians had forever ensured that Kosovo would never again return to Belgrade's rule.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.