The US and its European allies on Friday shelved a UN bid to secure independence for Kosovo in the face of a Russian veto threat and said they would hand the issue back to a six-nation Contact Group.
Western states have been trying to push a draft resolution in the Security Council to implement key provisions of UN mediator Martti Ahtissari's plan to grant "supersized independence" to the breakaway Albanian-majority Serbian province.
But they ran into opposition from Moscow, Belgrade's key ally, which has said it would use its power of veto to block the move.
On Friday, Washington and its European allies agreed to drop their efforts in the Security Council and turn the matter over to the six-nation Contact Group instead.
The draft would have endorsed new talks between Belgrade and Kosovo's Albanian separatists over a 120-day period under the aegis of the Contact Group on Kosovo -- Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the US -- and the EU "to determine whether common ground can be found."
In Moscow, the Russian foreign ministry welcomed the decision to send the issue back to the Contact Group.
"We consider that the annulment of a vote on a resolution is the logical result of our active position aimed at creating conditions to prolong talks in order to obtain an accord between Belgrade and Pristina," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Russian Ambassador to the UN Vitaly Churkin told reporters that Russia would attend a meeting of the Contact Group scheduled on Wednesday in Vienna.
Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica hailed the decision by the Western sponsors to drop their draft resolution as an "important victory" for Belgrade and Moscow.
"A joint principle policy of Serbia and Russia has won an important victory in the UN Security Council by defending ... the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Serbia," Kostunica said in a written statement.
He said it was a "victory of legacy over attempts to seize a large part of Serbia's territory."
But Kosovar Prime Minister Agim Ceku expressed "regret" over the move at the Security Council, saying that handing the issue over to the Contact Group "would have an impact only if the process is unblocked."
The Kosovo daily Express, meanwhile, reported that Ceku had proposed to other Kosovo Albanian politicians to proclaim independence on Nov. 28, which marks independence day in Albania, also widely celebrated by the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo.
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