Serbia and Kosovo squared off before the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday, with the Kosovars demanding quick independence and the Serbs insisting the province stay part of its territory. Neither showed any sign of budging.
Both sides have supporters in the council. The U.S. and key European Union nations back Kosovo's call for independence, and Russia supports its close ally Serbia and wants more negotiations.
The council meeting focused on a recent report by U.S., EU and Russian mediators on two years of talks between Belgrade and Kosovo on resolving the province's status. A four-month extension of the talks ended last month without an agreement.
After lengthy discussions, the council's 15 members decided that the meeting would be closed and Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica would speak as the representative of his country, while Kosovo's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, would speak in his private capacity as a party to the negotiations.
Serbia official warns against split
Although Kosovo formally remains part of Serbia, the province has been run by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when the military alliance ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists.
Kostunica told the council that it holds Serbia's fate in its hands, saying the country's future depends on how members reply to the question of whether the sovereignty and borders of a U.N. member state are truly respected.
The answer, he said, will have "far reaching consequences for the entire world as well."
"Will for the first time in the U.N.'s history a decision be taken — contrary to the will of a democratic state and, what is more, of a U.N. founding member — to redraw its internationally recognized borders, to abolish its sovereignty and to amputate 15 percent of its territory?" he said in prepared remarks.
Kostunica called for negotiations on autonomy for Kosovo within Serbia, warning that the country "will not accept" any unilateral declaration of independence by the Kosovars, which he said would be "a dangerous development."
Kosovo leader: 'Ready for independence'
Hashim Thaci, Kosovo's prime minister-elect, said Tuesday that Kosovo is "ready for independence."
"We have no time to lose, to waste," he said. "We need a decision ... for independence and qualitative recognition of (the) democratic world. ... We wasted a hundred years. We fight for our independence. We deserve our freedom."
Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin has introduced elements for a council statement that would back additional negotiations, but Britain, France, the U.S. and others have said talks have been exhausted and it is time to resolve Kosovo's status.
At an EU summit Friday, leaders rejected immediate unilateral recognition of an independent Kosovo. They agreed instead to try to coordinate a phased-in recognition of Kosovo's independence and also left the door open for a negotiated settlement between Serb and ethnic Albanian leaders.
Thaci, a former rebel leader who won last month's general elections, said Kosovo would take no unilateral action, but would coordinate action with the EU and the U.S.
Kosovo debate may move to EU
Earlier this year, Russia blocked Security Council approval of a plan drawn up by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari that proposed internationally supervised statehood. The four-month diplomatic effort that ended recently was aimed at ending the deadlock.
Kostunica told the council the talks failed because of "the explicit promise to the Kosovo Albanians that they will get an independent Kosovo."
He urged the council to call for the resumption of negotiations without such a promise, saying he is certain the new talks would then "bear fruit and lead in a fairly short while to a compromise."
But Thaci, the U.S., and key European members of the council, including Britain and France, say there is no prospect of a compromise.
Assuming that Russia again blocks action in the Security Council, the Kosovo issue will then move to the EU.
One European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because no decisions have been made, said Wednesday's session would bring to an end to the council's discussion and predicted the EU would likely take up Kosovo in February after Serbia's elections.