UNITED NATIONS (AP) - The United Nations and its members recognize Kosovo cannot remain under UN administration forever, so talks on deciding its final status will likely get approval as expected, the top UN official for the region said.
Soren Jessen-Petersen said Thursday that the tiny region has made enough progress toward a series of eight benchmarks - including steps toward democracy and multiethnicity - that were necessary for talks to begin. He stressed that none had been fully met and Kosovo still had a long way to go.
"I am very confident that by the end of the year, status discussions will be underway," Jessen-Peterson said. "I think it is more and more understood that this is a process, there has been a lot of progress, there are still shortcomings."
Kosovo officially remains part of Serbia-Montenegro, the union that replaced Yugoslavia. It has been under UN and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war that halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.
The province's majority ethnic Albanians want full independence, but the Serb minority insists Kosovo remain part of Serbia-Montenegro.
A UN special envoy is expected to make a recommendation to Secretary-General Kofi Annan later this month on whether to recommend a start of status talks.
Jessen-Petersen's comments reflected a growing consensus that the talks will get the green light even though the benchmarks have not been fully met.
He said a growing understanding that Kosovo cannot remain in its current state had essentially led governments to think differently about how they viewed progress.
"Maintaining Kosovo as a holding operation six years after it was launched by the Security Council is not sustainable," Jessen-Petersen said. "So I think there is, let's say, a degree of flexibility in looking at progress."
The eight goals, laid out in 2003, include establishing functioning democratic institutions, protecting minorities, promoting economic development, and ensuring rule of law, freedom of movement and property rights.
Jessen-Petersen said governments generally understood that Kosovo would have had an extremely difficult time meeting the goals even under the best circumstances.
"I don't think that there are many societies in Europe today who would indeed live up to all those goals," he said. "So I think it was not so much a change of approach as it was a changing sense of realism."
Yet Jessen-Petersen was also clear that Kosovo must continue to make progress after the talks begin - and even after they end, something he expects to happen sometime in 2006.
Jessen-Petersen refused to speculate on a possible outcome of the talks.
It appears likely that the only real possibility is to work toward Kosovo independence.
"There really are not a lot of options," he said. "But how do you then get the agreement on those options, what are the incentives that you could provide to those who feel that maybe they didn't get it their way?"