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The International Herald Tribune - June 16, 2007 by Nicholas Wood The U.S. envoy to Kosovo said Friday that Western nations could put off plans to make the province independent of Serbia if a delay might bring Russia on board. The envoy, Frank Wisner, met with most of the principal European nations overseeing talks on Kosovo on Tuesday, and told Kosovo's leaders Friday that the group of nations was willing to foster new talks, "Not to delay what the outcome has to be, but to make it clear to the world that every avenue was pursued." The idea, which follows a similar proposal made by President Nicolas Sarkozy of France last weekend, would allow new talks between Serbia and the ethnic Albanian leadership of Kosovo over the next four to six months. Sarkozy raised the idea with the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, who opposes independence on behalf of Serbia, a Russian ally. Sarkozy suggested talks but said that if they failed to reach a resolution, Kosovo would then become independent. But floating his plan was a setback to the American desire for Kosovo's independence this summer. In Kosovo's capital, Pristina, the French idea was met with dismay by Albanian politicians fearful that Europe's resolve is cracking. If the Americans consented to a delay, that could further upset the Albanians. On Tuesday, "we talked about the possibility of a resolution that might include a period of further discussion about status," Wisner told reporters in Kosovo, referring to an meeting of French, British, American, German and Italian representatives. Russia, which is part of the group, did not attend the meeting. The United States and most of Europe argue that the enclave, whose population is overwhelmingly ethnic Albanian, needs to be independent after the ethnic fighting of the last decade. But they have been stymied in trying to get a United Nations resolution through the Security Council over Russia's opposition. "The Europeans and we are absolutely together on what the objective is. That is that Kosovo is going to be independent," Wisner said by telephone shortly before his arrival in Kosovo. He also implied that the United States was not in favor of another lengthy negotiation. "Time is no one's friend," he said. "There is a lot of tension in the region." If Russia cannot be brought along, U.S. officials say privately, the only alternative would be unilateral recognition of Kosovo by Western governments. However, this strategy risks dividing European Union member states, a number of which are reluctant to support Kosovo's independence without a UN resolution. And so the United States, which is considered the firmest supporter of Kosovo's independence, is now struggling to find a balance between European willingness to calm Russia and the need of Kosovo's Albanian leadership to feel that statehood is within their grasp. "What looked like a brief process that could lead to independence now looks to them like a much longer process that may not work when it ends," said a Western diplomat in Pristina, speaking by telephone on condition of anonymity. "Kosovo cannot remain a hostage continuously," Fatmir Sejdiu, the president of Kosovo's ethnic Albanian government, said after meeting with Wisner. Serbian officials have objected to the proposal of new talks. Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica said his government saw no reason to enter discussions that could lead to Kosovo's independence.

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