PRISTINA, Serbia (Reuters) - Mediators see no hope of agreement between Serbs and ethnic Albanians on Kosovo’s future status and will propose instead a deal that ignores the issue of independence, the EU envoy was quoted as saying.
Wolfgang Ischinger said all proposals presented so far had been rejected by Serbia and leaders of Kosovo’s pro-independence Albanians, Kosovo and Serbian television reported on Wednesday, both quoting a Voice of America report.
They said the German diplomat and his mediating partners from the United States and Russia were seeking approval from their capitals to present a “status-neutral” agreement to regulate relations regardless of Kosovo’s future status.
Ischinger was speaking to journalists in Washington late on Tuesday, they said. The report topped Serb and Kosovo afternoon news bulletins.
Ischinger said the proposal would regulate economic cooperation, trade and the fight against crime but nothing about status. Mediators would see how the two sides reacted to the proposal.
The mediating “troika,” which began a fresh round of talks on Kosovo at the end of August, has until December 10 to report back to the United Nations.
Leaders of Serbia and Kosovo’s 90 percent Albanian majority are due to meet again in Brussels on November 20, before an expected make-or-break encounter at the end of the month.
Serbia has offered broad autonomy, but the Kosovo Albanians say they will accept nothing less than independence, eight years after NATO went to war to halt Serb atrocities during a counter-insurgency war and the United Nations took control.
Kosovo Albanian leaders, heading into a parliamentary election on Saturday, have threatened to declare independence and seek recognition from Western powers once talks end.
Ischinger met U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns on Wednesday in Washington to discuss the negotiations and Burns said afterward the United States still hoped a deal could be made by December 10.
“We are heading towards a very consequential period in the month of December and January where we are all going to have to step up and make the right kind of decisions,” Burns told a congressional hearing when asked about Kosovo negotiations.
The United States supports supervised independence for Kosovo as proposed by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari and Burns said the biggest risk for instability in the Balkans was for that plan not to be implemented.
“We have not given up on that. We had hoped there could be an agreement between the parties, but if that does not happen we will have to take our responsibilities,” said Burns, without elaborating.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has made clear that only independence for Kosovo could bring stability to the Balkans and has urged Europe to join the United States in backing statehood for the breakaway Serbian province.
Reporting by Fatos Bytyci and Matt Robinson, additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington, editing by Douglas Hamilton, Andrew Roche and Eric Walsh