- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 3, 2008

LONDON — The West and Russia clashed yesterday over the legality of a planned transfer of authority in Kosovo from the United Nations to the European Union, with Moscow insisting that any such action must be approved by the U.N. Security Council.

“Whatever new ideas are proposed, which go beyond the mandate contained in Resolution 1244, would require a new Security Council resolution,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in reference to the 1999 measure that created the U.N. mission in Kosovo.

U.S. and EU officials, however, disagreed. The United States and about two-thirds of the EU members have recognized Kosovo’s independence, but Russia still considers it a Serbian province.

Dimitrij Rupel, foreign minister of Slovenia, which currently holds the EU presidency, said that Resolution 1244 “does allow for a substantial role of the EU to be played in this case.” A senior State Department official said the resolution “provides all the authority necessary” for the “gradual transfer of authority and responsibilities” to what would be the EU’s “most ambitious mission.”

The official said that, because Kosovo’s new constitution is to take effect on June 15, the U.N. mission will no longer be able to govern.

The EU “rule of law mission” will be there at the invitation of the new Kosovo government, he said.

Kosovo became a de facto U.N. protectorate after NATO’s 1999 war with Serbia over violence against ethnic Albanians.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and European foreign ministers met yesterday in London to map out their strategy for helping Kosovo to become a viable state. Mr. Lavrov, however, was excluded from the session, even though he was in London for meetings on Iran and the Middle East peace process.

A senior State Department official, who is traveling with Miss Rice, said the Russians are not capable of “having a serious conversation about Kosovo,” but he added that the West will continue to consult with them.

In spite of the official U.S. and EU positions, some EU and U.N. diplomats said that a new resolution may be considered.

Noting that, before Kosovo’s declaration of independence in February, Russia had threatened to veto any U.N. resolution that would change the status quo, the diplomats said they would try to win Russian support this time by proposing language that is general and “neutral.”

“The new resolution wouldn’t deal with the issue of independence,” an EU official said. “It wouldn’t explicitly give a mandate to the EU, but it would be vague enough to allow the EU to send a mission.”

Mr. Lavrov said that the U.S. and EU “policy of creating facts on the ground” will not “be successful.” He said that all major decisions should be approved by Belgrade, but Miss Rice reminded him of “the fact of Kosovo’s independence.”

“We are going to work to help to make that state a success, including through mobilizing resources, through donors who wish to contribute, but also in recognizing that there cannot now be an effort to reverse the situation,” she said.

In their meeting, Miss Rice and her colleagues from Britain, France, Germany and Italy also discussed a strategy to prevent Kosovo’s partition. Last month, riots erupted in Serb-minority areas in northern Kosovo, and Belgrade has suggested that some of those areas might become part of Serbia.

Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said in a television interview yesterday that a “functional separation of Serbs” in Kosovo is “inevitable.”

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