UNITED NATIONS, July 13 (Reuters) - Russia said on Thursday the United Nations had no authority to impose a solution on Serbia over the status of its breakaway Kosovo province and only a negotiated deal was acceptable.
The statement by Russian U.N. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin was significant as the leaders of Kosovo and Serbia have dug in their heels in the international talks aimed at determining whether Kosovo wins independence or remains a part of Serbia, making an imposed solution more likely.
"I stated today in the closed meeting of the Security Council that I do not believe that the international community has legal, political or moral ground to force Serbia into a solution on this issue," Churkin told reporters.
"There is plenty of opportunity for the sides to have their discussions, and the only stable solution, the only solution good for regional and global stability, would be a solution negotiated between the two sides," Churkin said.
Ethnic Albanians, 90 percent of the impoverished province's 2 million people, demand independence while Serbia insists Kosovo must remain within its borders, albeit with substantial autonomy.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since June 1999 when NATO bombs drove out Serb forces accused of atrocities against civilians while battling a guerrilla insurgency.
Martti Ahtisaari of Finland is leading the U.N.-backed process set up to determine Kosovo's eventual status. Direct talks on the fate of Kosovo began in February in Vienna, and he hopes for a result by the end of this year.
Churkin spoke after Ahtisaari briefed the council -- and then talked to reporters -- on his talks.
During the closed-door meeting, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica again ruled out independence and accused the international community of seeking to change Serbia's borders by force, diplomats attending the session said.
Ahtisaari, asked before Churkin spoke whether he thought a solution might have to be imposed because of Kostunica's hard line, said it was "entirely premature to start talking how the end result of this exercise is going to be."
But other council diplomats said an imposed solution would clearly be in order if a deal could not be negotiated.
Ahtisaari said he had strong council support for his work. "I think everyone is interested that we have a thorough process -- in the end of the day that we can say that we have done our utmost to try to find a negotiated settlement," he said.