Kosovo's ethnic Albanian president Ibrahim Rugova ruled out holding bilateral talks with Serbia on the future of the United Nations-run province on Tuesday.
Serbia's pro-Western president, Boris Tadic, signalled his intention earlier in the day to invite Rugova to a meeting in Belgrade as a prelude to full negotiations on the "final status" of the Serbian province which has been overseen by the United Nations since NATO warplanes drove Serbian forces out in 1999.
"There can be no direct political talks with Belgrade," Muhamet Hamiti, Rugova's political advisor, said in a statement responding to media reports that an invitation was imminent.
Rugova led a campaign of passive resistance to the Serb domination in the 1990s.
Brutal Serbian tactics to put down an ethnic Albanian insurgency and accusations of "ethnic cleansing" eventually provided the grounds for a 1999 NATO air war against Belgrade and its forces in Kosovo.
"If there is eventually an international meeting to finalise the issue of Kosovo independence, neighbours can take part but without a right to veto," Hamiti said.
The response was a blow to Western hopes of easing Kosovo into potentially explosive negotiations later this year on whether it becomes independent - as the 90-percent Albanian majority demands - or remains nominally part of Serbia.
The two sides have made tentative progress in talks on "technical issues" such as energy and missing persons, but there has been no direct political dialogue between Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders since their 1998-99 guerrilla war ended.
Albanians are impatient for independence and last year their anger boiled over into two days of riots during which 19 people died and 4,000 Serbs and other minorities fled their homes.
Serbia says independence for "sacred" Kosovo is impossible.
The United Nations said it could open negotiations in September provided Kosovo passes a June assessment of its progress on democracy, security and minority rights.
But the West wanted first to smooth the path with direct dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina.
The scholarly Rugova with his trademark neckscarf was last in Belgrade in April 1999 during the NATO bombing for a tense meeting with former Serb strongman Slobodan Milosevic, now on trial for warcrimes at the U.N. tribunal in The Hague.
Another trip to Belgrade now would revive memories of that uncomfortable encounter, angering Kosovo Albanians embittered over the years of repression under Milosevic.
Former Kosovo prime minister Ramush Haradinaj had said he would meet Serb leaders in Belgrade, but the ex-rebel leader quit in early March also to face charges at the U.N. war crimes tribunal.