Kosovo and Serbia are set to have their first face-to-face talks at the United Nations starting on Friday. The meeting is billed as the final attempt to forge an agreement between the two about independence for the breakaway province. The US and most EU states have said they will support Kosovo's independence; however, opponents like Spain and Russia worry that granting the restive Serbian province independence may create worldwide instability by setting a precedent for areas like the Basque region and pieces of the former Soviet empire.
The UN has administered Kosovo since 1999, when a NATO bombing campaign forced Serbian troops from the province. Both sides are approaching the talks firm in their positions, reports the British Broadcasting Corp. Though Serbia appears ready to make concessions, they may not be enough to satisfy Kosovo.
The Serbs say they plan to propose a comprehensive blueprint for autonomy and hinted they might give up control over Kosovo's borders.
But Kosovo has made clear it will accept nothing short of independence under UN supervision at the end of the negotiating process on 10 December.
In an address to the UN General Assembly on Thursday, Albania's Prime Minister Sali Berisha said that full independence for Kosovo is the only solution that will "bring durable peace and stability to the region," reports the United Nations News Wire. Mr. Berisha also denied claims that he was trying to create a "greater Albania" by urging for an independent Kosovo, where ethnic Albanians out number Serbs by roughly nine to one.
"The claim that the independence of Kosova may lead to the creation of Greater Albania cannot be farther from the truth," Mr. Berisha added, using the Albanian name for the province.
"In reality, Kosova's independence will only end the fluidity of Albanians in the Balkans, along with the idea of the creation of a single Albanian State in the territories where they are a dominant majority. The simple truth is that Kosova Albanians have decided in their project of the future to join Brussels, not Tirana."
Using the right of reply, Serbia's representative criticized Mr. Berisha for "openly calling for the violation" of the territorial integrity of a UN Member State, particularly on the eve of such crucial direct talks.
Serbian President Boris Tadic has accused the US of "undermining" negotiations by supporting Kosovo's independence, reports the Financial Times. Mr. Tadic has charged that only the UN Security Council has the power to make a legitimate decision regarding the future of Kosovo.
"If there's going to be a unilateral declaration of independence by the provincial institutions in Kosovo, and it is accepted by the US and others, it is a great danger for future stability," Mr Tadic told the FT.
Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, said this week that only independence for Kosovo could bring stability in the Balkans. She hoped for an amicable outcome, even if the two sides did not agree on the province's future status. "But there's going to be an independent Kosovo. We're dedicated to that. It's the only solution that is potentially stabilising for the Balkans rather than destabilising for the Balkans."
Mr Tadic countered that such an outcome would set a precedent for other breakaway movements and would have a destabilising impact. "All countries in the world would be in the same situation [as Serbia] if they were to lose part of their territory or the cornerstone of their identity."
While the majority of European Union states, especially Britain and France, will back Kosovo's bid for independence, Italy and Spain, among others, have expressed reservations. Although Italy is likely to offer support in the end, it has expressed concerns that Kosovo is too poor to function as a viable state and will become a hotbed for crime, reports Radio Free Europe. Spain is the only EU country to express strong opposition, as it fears that Kosovo's independence may set a dangerous precedent for its own Basque region, which already possesses a strong separatist movement. Though hesitant EU states may impede Kosovo's independence, Russia is likely to cause the biggest problems.
Spain is the only one of the large EU member states that has indicated strong opposition to Kosovo's independence, although some reports suggest that Madrid's opposition has weakened lately. Spain's concern is not wanting to set a precedent for the possible independence of some of its regions, which, like Kosovo under the 1974 Yugoslav and Serbian constitutions, have strong legal guarantees of autonomy. Romania and Slovakia are similarly concerned about possible secessionist aspirations of their respective Hungarian minorities, which, however, do not enjoy constitutional autonomy on the Kosovar or Catalan models.
Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Greece, and Cyprus are all bound by traditional feelings of friendship toward Serbia and are sensitive toward Belgrade's point of view.
Russian officials also repeat the Serbian argument that independence for Kosovo will destabilize the Balkans. The Russians stress that independence would create a "dangerous precedent" for resolving "frozen" and other conflicts in the former Soviet space and elsewhere in the world.
In an article from the Madrid-based daily ABC, summarized by the Serbian Tanjug news agency, the Spaniards reiterated their concerns about the spread of instability.
"This would, from the highest place in the international community, add wind to the sails of separatists who wish to cancel the principle of territorial integrity," the daily writes in a lengthy analysis of the current Kosovo status process.
"Besides, independence would inevitably create renewed regional instability, with potential to seriously 'infect' all neighbors," ABC says.
The article concludes that Kosovo's independence would represent "a giant step backwards for all mankind's efforts to build diversified communities made up of free citizens, capable of living in peace despite the differences."
In a blog for the Guardian, Antonio Cassese, the first president of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and a professor of law at the University of Florence, argues that an old and, now rarely used, UN measure may allow Kosovo and Serbia to reach a compromise. The measure would create a loose confederation, allotting Kosovo virtual independence, but allowing Serbia influence over its diplomatic decisions.
By means of a binding UN security council resolution, Kosovo could be granted full and exclusive authority over its citizens and territory, as well as limited capacity for action on the international scene. It could be authorised to enter into trade agreements as well as agreements concerning individuals (for example, admission and circulation of foreigners, or extradition), plus the right to seek admission to the UN (which does not require full sovereignty and independence).
Kosovo would thus gain some essential trappings of statehood. However, a decision-making body consisting of delegates from Kosovo, Serbia, and the European Union would be given full authority over major foreign policy issues (for example, alliances and relations with international economic institutions), defence, borders (in case Kosovo wished to join with Albania), and the treatment of Kosovo's Serbian minority. As a result, Kosovo and Serbia would constitute two distinct international subjects, bound by a confederation hinging on a common decision-making body.