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No Breakthrough As Serbs, Kosovar Albanians Hold Direct Talks

September 29, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- For the first time in the presence of the "troika" of EU, Russian, and U.S. mediators, Serbian and Kosovar Albanian leaders have held direct talks on the future of Serbia's breakaway province.

The meeting took place onSeptember 28 in New York, on the sidelines of a UN General Assembly session. Serbian and Kosovar leaders had met twice since international negotiations on the future status of the breakaway province began in 2005, but never before the troika.

Constructive Atmosphere

While the talks yielded no breakthrough, EU mediator Wolfgang Ischinger gave a positive assessment while addressing reporters in New York after the meeting.

"The atmosphere was constructive," Ischinger said. "Belgrade presented and elaborated its vision of substantial autonomy for Kosovo. Pristina presented its vision of two independent states which would work together under a treaty arrangement and would envisage to fully implement minority rights as envisaged in the so-called Ahtisaari package."

The Belgrade delegation was led by Serbian President Boris Tadic and Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica. Kosovar President Fatmir Sejdiu and Prime Minister Agim Ceku headed the Pristina delegation.

Russia's envoy, Aleksandr Botsan-Kharchenko, praised both parties for displaying goodwill.

"This morning, I noted interesting signs in the way Belgrade and Pristina presented their positions," Botsan-Kharchenko said. "Both parties seriously thought about ways to establish trust and cooperation. Of course, I wouldn't want to overestimate the outcome of this face-to-face session, but there is a foundation for continued discussions. Parties are demonstrating the ability to talk to each other."

Serbia rejects independence for Kosovo, which has been under UN administration since 1999. But the province's ethnic Albanian leadership says it is determined to obtain sovereignty.

U.S. mediator Frank Wisner told reporters that the so-called New York Declaration was issued following the talks.

"In that declaration, we, the troika, welcomed these first direct talks under our auspices," Wisner said. "We reminded the parties that matters must move forward, that the status quo in the region is not sustainable. Both parties reaffirmed their commitment -- as expressed in the Vienna document of August 30 -- to refrain from any activities or statements that might jeopardize the security situation."

Ischinger said both sides agreed to hold more direct talks, with the next meeting set for Brussels on October 14.

The UN General Assembly is holding its annual general debate, which this year runs from September 25 to October 3.

UN Discusses Iran, Religion

The September 28 gathering saw debate on a number of issues.

The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany agreed to delay until November a new UN resolution that would toughen sanctions against Iran over its nuclear activities. Russia and China, which have closer ties to Iran, have insisted that Tehran must be given more time to comply with UN nuclear inspectors.

In his speech to the General Assembly, Belarusian Foreign Minister Syarhey Martynau called on the UN to come up with a concrete plan of action to fight human trafficking.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov proposed to create a religious council within the United Nations. He said such a body could provide a forum for different religious denominations to discuss sometimes thorny inter-religious issues.

(RFE/RL New York correspondent Nikola Krastev contributed to this report.)

Copyright (c) 2007. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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