(By Tim Judah in London)
ISN SECURITY WATCH (18/05/05) - One week before the UN Security Council is set to fire the starting gun on a major new diplomatic offensive over Kosovo, Serbs, Albanians, and foreign diplomats are involved in a major campaign of public and private diplomacy over the issue.
On 27 May, the UNSC is set to discuss the fate of the province, which, although technically part of Serbia, has been an effective UN protectorate since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999.
Diplomatic sources have told ISN Security Watch that the Contact Group, which represents the major powers involved in the Balkans, has recommended to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan that in the wake of the meeting he appoint Kai Eide, Norway's Ambassador to NATO, to begin an examination of the situation in Kosovo.
If the report from Ambassador Eide, or whomever is appointed, is favorable, then in the fall, Annan will appoint another envoy to begin talks on the final - or rather future - status of the province.
These talks could last six to nine months, and assuming there is no agreement on the future of Kosovo between the Serbs and Albanians, the UN Security Council might decide to impose a solution, which could be some form of “conditional independence”.
On Wednesday, Nicholas Burns, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, is due to discuss the coming diplomatic offensive in congressional testimony.
In the run up to the 27 May meeting, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica has proposed talks next week with his Kosovo Albanian counterpart, Bajram Kosumi. Serbian President Boris Tadic has also invited Kosovo Albanian President Ibrahim Rugova to talk.
Kosumi has accepted the idea of talks in principle, but neither side is likely to be much concerned with their content as opposed to point scoring.
Kostunica is keen to present Serbia as the party of compromise. Serbian leaders say the solution for Kosovo must be “more than autonomy but less than independence”.
Kosumi, who, like all Kosovo Albanian leaders, wants nothing short of independence, is interested in talks because dialog with Belgrade is one of the key “Standards” that the UN has set for Kosovo to achieve.
In private, there is now intense discussion as to who will be asked to become the UN’s “status envoy” between Belgrade and Pristina, the Kosovo capital, who will likely start work next September.
Four names are currently being discussed. They are former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt, former Italian prime minister Giuliano Amato, former NATO secretary-general Lord George Robertson, and former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.
Diplomatic sources have told ISN Security Watch that, as things stand now, Ahtisaari is regarded as far and away the strongest candidate.