By NICK WADHAMS
The Associated Press
Tuesday, February 14, 2006; 6:49 PM
UNITED NATIONS -- Serbia's president on Tuesday suggested imposing a 20-year grace period before determining Kosovo's final status, an idea that was swiftly rejected by the tiny province's prime minister.
The leaders' disagreement as they gathered for a U.N. Security Council discussion of Kosovo underscored how far apart the two sides remain ahead of talks set to begin Monday on the future status of the province.
Kosovo has been administered by the United Nations since NATO's 1999 air war against Yugoslavia, which forced former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic to end a crackdown on rebel ethnic Albanians in Kosovo and relinquish control over the region.
Speaking before the council, Serbian President Boris Tadic reiterated his government's opposition to independence for Kosovo and again offered the province wide autonomy instead. Kosovo's status could be renegotiated "after an agreed period of time, say 20 years," he said.
He also added a wrinkle: If Kosovo is to gain autonomy from Serbia, then the Serbian minority there should gain autonomy from the Kosovo government.
Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Kosumi told reporters afterward that Tadic's ideas were not acceptable.
"I believe that this is the appropriate moment where we have to end and close the Kosovo question," Kosumi said.
The dispute exposed the problem that each side and their U.N.-appointed mediators know well, with the talks just days away. Kosovo wants total independence from Serbia, while Serbia refuses to countenance that possibility.
Tadic acknowledged the difficulty, telling the council that Kosovo and the Serbs favor "two seemingly irreconcilable options."
Tadic warned that independence for Kosovo could spur other territories to break away. But several council members stressed that the key was making sure Kosovo's people _ who are 90 percent ethnic Albanian _ approve of the final decision.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton tacitly rejected Tadic's warning, saying that Kosovo was "a very special case" because of the disintegration of Yugoslavia, ethnic cleansing, and the fact that it had been under U.N. administration for so long.
"We must be realistic about possible outcomes," Bolton said. "Independence is a possible outcome. Any status outcome must be acceptable to the people of Kosovo."
As well as hearing Tadic's views, council members discussed a report from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, released two weeks ago, that said Kosovo had made little progress in efforts to create a multiethnic and democratic society in the province, which slightly smaller than Connecticut.
Council members were blunt about their dissatisfaction with Kosovo's development, and spread blame between both sides.
"Understandably, the overall impression one comes away with is disappointment," Greece's U.N. Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis said.