UN to Hold Off on Kosovo Vote after Russia Promises Veto

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By WARREN HOGE
Published: July 20, 2007

The European and American sponsors of a resolution that would put Kosovo on the path to independence withdrew the measure from the Security Council today in the face of a promised Russian veto and said a six-nation European group would now seek a way to settle the contentious statehood question.

“We regret that it has been impossible to secure such a resolution in the United Nations Security Council,” said Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, the French ambassador. “We will therefore put on hold discussions of the resolution.”

He made the announcement after a morning meeting held to test the ongoing Russian resistance to the resolution despite repeated revisions adopted in recent weeks to try to meet Moscow’s objections.

Vitaly I. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, said he had told the 15 council ambassadors that Russia was not prepared to vote yes or to abstain, leaving a veto the sure response if a vote were called.

Asked beforehand why the sponsors would not allow a vote to go forward and let the Russians cast their veto, Emyr Jones Parrry, the British ambassador, said, “We didn’t want high drama, which might have had consequences in the region.”

Mr. de la Sabliere said the so-called contact group — Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States — would meet on Wednesday in Vienna and start a process of talks on Kosovo that would be limited to 120 days.

Asked if the sponsors were “abandoning” the Security Council, Zalmay Khalilzad, the American ambassador, said, “The council is blocked.” He declined to say whether the issue would return here one day.

Kosovo is a province of Serbia, which has been under United Nations administration since a NATO-led bombing war ended a Serbian crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

Its population is 90 percent Albanian, and there is great pressure from that sizable majority for a unilateral declaration of independence, a move that all sides in the dispute believe would roil a part of the world already known for its disastrous ethnic conflicts.

The resolution was an attempt to provide a managed way to move Kosovo to statehood with protection for the 10 percent Serbian minority and promised membership in the European Union.

“It is the last piece in the Balkan jigsaw,” said Mr. Jones Parry, an allusion to the other parts of the former Yugoslavia that have gone independent, like Bosnia Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Montenegro and Slovenia.

A year ago Western diplomats thought the status of Kosovo could be resolved by giving the Russians enough time to lobby vigorously on behalf of their Serbian allies and then bowing to the inevitability of statehood for the province.

But Russia’s combative posture to Europe and the United States dictated a harder line on Kosovo than had been anticipated, and the Russians have persisted in their rejection of any resolution that would end in independence for the Serbian province. They have even refused to enter into the draft-revising exercise that normally accompanies the refining of resolutions in the Security Council.

“The Russians have outsourced their foreign policy to Belgrade,” complained Karen Pierce, the deputy ambassador of Britain.

The original resolution was modeled on a plan for “supervised independence” developed by Martti Ahtisaari, the United Nations envoy who delivered the proposed resolution to the Security Council in March, saying that 13 months of direct negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina has produced an impasse.

The series of language changes made since then removed the certainty of an outcome promising independence, but Mr. Churkin, the Russian ambassador, held that the measure was still “permeated with independence for Kosvo” and therefore unacceptable. Earlier this week he bluntly portrayed its chance for passage as “zero.”

He kept pushing for new direct talks, perhaps with a new mediator, and today he said, “It seems we are going to have an opportunity to start to put together effective negotiations between the parties.” He said that Russia would play an active role in those talks.

The five other members of the contact group have made it clear that they favor the Ahtisaari model.

Mr. Churkin denied Russia was being obstructionist, saying instead that it was defending the principle of territorial integrity. “The principle of territorial integrity of states, member states of the United Nations, is one of the foundations of international law,” he said.

He added, “There is also, I think, a very strong political motivation not to reward aggressive separatist inclinations,” which he said could destabilize other areas of the world.

“We are not delaying anything, we are preventing this solution which was offered, which would be detrimental to international law and to the stability of the Balkans and internationally,” he said. LINK

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