Kosovo, U.S. officials to discuss province's future

Days after the United Nations Security Council set aside a resolution that Russia called a hidden route to independence U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Kosovo officials are to discuss the breakaway province's future.

The United States and the European Union said Friday they would move the forum for deciding Kosovo's status from the security council to the Contact Group on Kosovo - which includes representatives from the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Germany, Russia.

The U.N. Security Council resolution on Kosovo's future was set aside Friday in the face of a possible Russian veto.

The Washington talks also follow a comment by Kosovo's prime minister Agim Ceku suggesting that the province's parliament should adopt its own resolution setting Nov. 28 as a possible date for declaring independence.

Ceku will be among a group of officials and politicians from the province, including its president and the speaker of its assembly, who will meet with Rice and other U.S. officials, including national security adviser Stephen Hadley Monday.

Although Kosovo remains a province of Serbia, it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.

In April, the U.N.'s special envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, recommended Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence.

The latest version of the resolution calls for four months of intensive negotiations between Kosovo's ethnic Albanian independence-seeking majority and the province's Serb minority, which wants to remain part of Serbia. About 90 percent of the province's 2 million residents are ethnic Albanian.

It drops an automatic route to independence if talks fail. But it would hand the administration of Kosovo from the United Nations to the European Union after 120 days, which means the EU would be the key decision-maker in the province.

Kosovo officials will likely tell Rice and Hadley that patience in Kosovo is running thin and that further delays could inflame public opinion. Moderate forces in Kosovo represented by the delegation are under pressure from more radical parties and the public to show that they will deliver independence.

U.S. officials have said that despite the delay, the Bush administration fully supports independence.

Serbia's foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, is also scheduled to meet with Rice in Washington Thursday.