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>> The Wall Street Journal


THE KOSOVO KNOT

The Wall Street Journal - June 18, 2007 by Borut Grgic* After a year of internationally-supervised negotiations between Pristina and Belgrade, we are not any closer to a solution for the Kosovo question. The province's predominantly Albanian population wants independence from their former oppressors in Serbia. Belgrade, though, insists it has full sovereignty over what has effectively been a U.N protectorate since 1999. This unbridgeable division is reproduced among the great powers. Moscow and Washington are on opposite ends while Europe, in its typical "evenhanded" fashion, prefers saying hardly anything at all. Delaying a decision on Kosovo's final status any longer could destabilize the entire Western Balkans. Under a peace plan put forward by special U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, Kosovo would gradually gain independence. Russian President Vladimir Putin rejects this proposal and threatens to veto any resolution that would lead to this outcome. The Russians are bewildered by the concept of a special envoy deciding on issues such as state sovereignty and borders. The U.S. approach is more pragmatic. Washington is willing to recognize the reality on the ground, which makes a two-state solution inevitable. Enter the French. Paris tried last week to break the stalemate by calling for a six-months delay to let the parties talk more before the Security Council takes up the issue again. It sounds like a good idea. But giving the parties more time to negotiate just defers the hard decisions without getting any closer to an agreement. Besides, the U.S. has little room for maneuver after President George W. Bush's recent statement in Albania. Speaking in the capital Tirana earlier this month, he stressed that only Kosovo's independence could be an acceptable solution. As right as he is, this doesn't leave much to negotiate about. Giving all the parties another six months for reflection is unlikely to bring the U.S. and Russia any closer. Worse, the new time-table could complicate things even more. Russia is headed toward parliamentary and presidential elections over the next nine months. Closer to the campaigns, Moscow will be even less likely to accept anything that could be seen to hurt its Orthodox allies. It's unlikely that the French really believe that their idea of a six-months time-out could somehow produce a deal acceptable to all parties. France's new foreign minister is not new to Kosovo. Bernard Kouchner was the first special representative of the U.N. Secretary General in the province, and knows better than most that finding a compromise is a mission impossible. While the great powers dither, regional politics are heating up. The government in Pristina is under enormous pressure from those at home who never believed that diplomacy would deliver Kosovo its independence. The government could fall if there is another delay. They would likely be replaced by politicians who don't believe in the value of international engagement. A new political front in Kosovo could unilaterally declare independence, which would complicate the situation for the Serb minority and possibly lead to Kosovo's partition. In the Balkans, political instability is highly contagious. New trouble in Kosovo and possibly Serbia might easily spill over to neighboring countries. Macedonia and Bosnia are particularly vulnerable. The threat of a return of sectarian violence is the last thing the region needs, especially just as it is showing signs of economic recovery. The EU should be wish to preserve economic stability and progress in the Balkans if only to avoid mass immigration from the region. The best way out of this international confusion is to cut the Gordian Knot on the Kosovo question. The West should accept that the two sides won't be able to find a compromise. Mr. Putin's objection to Kosovo's independence is not a mere rhetorical device or tactical game. The U.S. and the EU need to realize that a resolution endorsing the Ahtisaari plan will inevitably provoke a Russian veto. Nothing can change that. We can move on from this. Instead, the EU and the U.S. ought to refer the matter to NATO and draft a trans-Atlantic position that recognizes Kosovo's independence. Bypassing the U.N. is exactly what the West did in 1999 when NATO stopped Serbia's ethnic cleansing campaign in Kosovo. Likewise, the EU didn't need approval from New York when it deployed troops in Macedonia to keep the peace there in 2001. In a similar fashion, the EU and the U.S. could take over the U.N. mission in Kosovo today. There is nothing in international law that says this would be illegal. Kosovo and the region need clarity on its future from the trans-Atlantic Alliance in order to continue with economic and political reforms and eventually join the EU and NATO. At the end of the day, all Kosovo needs to function and survive as a sovereign state is Western recognition and support in the interim period. A stamp of approval from the U.N. Security Council would certainly be a bonus. But making it a sine qua non for Kosovo's independence would condemn the entire region to permanent instability. The author is director of the Institute for Strategic Studies in Ljubljana, Slovenia.





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