The European Union will seek Monday to set aside divisions and examine ways to end the impasse over Kosovo's future status after Russia blocked attempts to put the province on the road to independence.
EU foreign ministers will meet in Brussels in the first high-level talks since the United States and its European allies postponed Friday UN Security Council efforts to secure "supervised independence" for the Serbian province.
It comes at the start of a week expected to see the international Contact Group -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States -- take over diplomatic efforts and organise new talks between Belgrade and Pristina.
But EU officials acknowledge that the 27-country bloc is divided over whether to recognise the UN-administered province should it unilaterally declare independence out of frustration with the delays.
"We are already faced with a difficult situation" which could be complicated if "the EU is unable to maintain a position of coherence and cohesion," warned Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, whose country holds the EU presidency.
Russia complains that recognizing an independent Kosovo would send the wrong signal to other breakaway regions.
That argument has resonance with Spain -- facing problems with Basque separatists -- while Greece, Cyprus and Slovakia are known to be reluctant to recognize any unilateral move by the province.
Yet the Balkans has been a well-spring of instability and no one can forget the images of Serbia troops cleansing Kosovo of its ethnic Albanian majority, a crackdown stopped in 1999 when NATO bombed Belgrade.
"No one wants to have another state in Europe, no one at all, but there's no alternative given what's happened," one EU official said.
The move to the Contact Group, which meets in Vienna Wednesday and is not bound by veto rules, is seen as a way to involve Moscow in talks with the sides, which have borne little fruit in the past.
But officials also said that the security council would have the final word, with a resolution needed for the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) to be phased out and the EU operation to move in.
A first step, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman said, would be to have US, Russian and European mediators work with the two sides.
Russia questioned the independence of UN Kosovo envoy Martti Ahtisaari.
"We would suspend the UN process to negotiate under the Contact Group, but the idea would be to return there at the end of the negotiations to examine the results," said the spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach.
The negotiations are expected to last four months and will not be easy.
Kosovo Prime Minister Agim Ceku has already rejected further talks, saying status is no longer negotiable, even though Serbian President Boris Tadic insists that Belgrade is willing to compromise.
The foreign ministers, who the Portuguese presidency said will spend most of their Monday lunch discussing Kosovo, will have to work out what position to take on the new talks, as well as whether and how to be involved.
"It's no secret that there are a wide range of views in the EU," underlined one diplomat who wished not to be named.
Apart from frustrating the Kosovars, whose ethnic Albanian majority is applying pressure for independence, the UN blockage is holding up EU efforts to deploy a vast civilian operation which would take over from UNMIK.
"If we go in without a resolution, what will we try to achieve?" the EU official said. "If we change model, we'll have to re-plan the operation."
Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Temmuz 2007, 18:04