US Under Secretary for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Washington was firmly behind the UN call for talks on the future of Serbia's breakaway province of Kosovo to begin soon.
"The United States fully supports the decision of (UN) Secretary General Kofi Annan to launch these talks in fairly short order," Burns, who is planning to visit the province next week to lay the groundwork for the talks, said.
"Our belief is that the status quo of Kosovo, the status quo since June of 1999 -- June 9th, 1999, the day the war ended -- is no longer sustainable," he added. "The people of the region have a right to know that they have a future and that they can control that future."
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations and NATO since a bombing campaign by the military alliance forced Serbian forces to end a 1998-1999 crackdown against separatists in the province's Albanian majority.
Annan said Friday that talks on the future status of the province would begin "soon" and that he planned to appoint a special envoy to lead the talks.
Burns said the United States also planned to appoint a special envoy to take part in the discussions.
"It's very important that these talks are conducted in a peaceful manner and that neither side resorts to intimidation or to violence," he said. "NATO has a very strong military force of 18,000 soldiers in Kosovo and NATO is prepared to keep order and will keep order in a very vigorous way as these talks proceed."
The key issue in the status negotiations, finally taking place more than six years after the Kosovo war ended, is whether or not the Serbian province should be allowed to become independent.
Pristina says it is not even willing to discuss the subject with Belgrade, which remains vehemently opposed to any form of independence.