NATO foreign ministers agreed Friday to maintain a strong peacekeeping force in Kosovo to handle any flare-up of violence in the province, which appears poised to move toward independence from Serbia after negotiations failed.
"NATO will respond resolutely to any attempts to disrupt the safety and security of any of the people of Kosovo," the ministers said.
Instead of declaring unilateral independence, NATO spokesman James Appathurai urged a "managed and controlled" transition to decide the final status of Kosovo.
The NATO statement urged "both parties to refrain from making acts or statements that could undermine the security situation."
The United States and leading European allies are hoping to revive a plan — rejected by Serbia and its Russian backers — for a gradual, supervised move to statehood.
There was no progress in narrowing differences with Russia, which strongly backs Serbia's opposition to Kosovo's independence. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said allowing a unilateral move by Kosovo toward independence would lead to "a very slippery downward slope," by setting a precedent for other separatists regions.
"It certainly won't help the stability of Europe," Lavrov told a news conference after talks with his NATO counterparts.
The NATO allies agreed that NATO's 16,450 peacekeeping troops could continue their mission in Kosovo under the current U.N. mandate.
A battalion of German troops has already been sent to Kosovo to strengthen the force, and British, Italian and French units are being held in reserve, ready to move in if there is a new flare-up of violence.
Talks to establish a united Western position on Kosovo's future are expected to continue in the margins of an European Union-Africa summit in Lisbon this weekend and at the bloc's regular year-end summit next week.
Güncelleme Tarihi: 07 Aralık 2007, 17:57