The United States and its European allies yesterday admitted defeat in a bid to obtain U.N. backing for the independence of the Serbian province of Kosovo.
They were unable to overcome Russian threats to veto a Security Council resolution backing independence.
U.S. officials say they are prepared to seek other diplomatic means to give Kosovo independence, while leading Kosovar politicians said the overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian province might unilaterally break from Belgrade by the end of the year if the international community fails to act.
U.N.-administered Kosovo has been stuck in a political and diplomatic limbo since a NATO air campaign drove the forces of Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic from the province eight years ago. NATO carried out the strikes to halt a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” against Kosovo’s Albanians, who make up an estimated 90 percent of the province’s population.
U.S. officials say Kosovo independence is inevitable, and warn that violence could flare again if the stalemate persists. But Serbia, backed by Russia, its traditional ally, has resisted a U.N. blueprint for de facto independence for the province.
But supporters of independence appear to have underestimated Russia’s willingness to back Serbia on the question — to the point of wielding its veto if the resolution had come to a vote.
“We regret … that it has been impossible to secure such a resolution in the United Nations Security Council,” French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere said on behalf of the resolution’s sponsors, which included the United States, Britain, Belgium, Italy and Germany.
Resolution supporters hope now to shift talks to the so-called Contact Group of countries involved in the Serbia-Kosovo standoff. Russia is a member of the group but, unlike in the Security Council, does not have a veto over its decisions.
In Belgrade, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said Serbia and Russia had “won an important victory” at the Security Council in defending his country’s “sovereignty and territorial integrity.”
But in the Kosovo capital of Pristina, Prime Minister Agim Ceku appealed to the province’s parliament to consider declaring independence on Nov. 28 — the day of national independence in neighboring Albania.
Mr. Ceku told reporters that he was not proposing a unilateral break with Serbia, but said the declaration would be a prod to the United Nations to rule on Kosovo’s ultimate status.
Both Mr. Ceku and Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic are expected in Washington next week for talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other U.S. officials.
But veterans of Kosovo’s guerrilla war with Serbia in the 1990s have talked openly in recent days of taking up arms again if the diplomatic talks stall.
“If there is no independence for Kosovo, we will be forced to act as KLA soldiers,” Faik Fazliu, head of an organization of veterans of the Kosovo Liberation Army, told the Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty news service earlier this month.
In Belgrade, Mr. Kostunica’s ruling coalition has promised a “serious review” of relations with the United States if Washington continues to press for Kosovo’s independence. The Radical Party, which has the largest bloc of representatives in parliament, has even proposed a break in diplomatic ties.
U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Michael Polt, in an interview before yesterday’s vote, warned that Belgrade would be the loser if it continued its hard-line stance.
“The only ones who will suffer if something like that does occur are the Serbian people,” he said.
“Europe will move on, the rest of Yugoslavia will move on, the entire world around Serbia will move on. And if Serbia chooses to go down that path, it will isolate itself to the detriment of its own people.”
• Slobodan Pavlovic reported from Belgrade.