Serbian and Kosovo Albanian leaders met yesterday to try to reach a compromise over the breakaway Serb province of Kosovo as a Dec. 10 deadline for a deal draws near.
While few expect a breakthrough after months of fruitless wrangling, Western capitals want all options to be explored. If the talks fail, leaders of the province's majority Albanians have vowed to declare independence regardless.
"We feel that no stone must go unturned," said France's Europe Minister Jean-Pierre Jouyet ahead of talks in Brussels between the two sides, due to be shepherded by a troika of EU, US and Russian mediators.
"We'll have a good troika session today and I am quite confident it will be a productive one," said Wolfgang Ischinger, the German diplomat leading the negotiations, as he arrived for a preliminary meeting with his US and Russian counterparts.
Ischinger said he would confer with them on whether to float a so-called "status-neutral" proposal to regulate ties between Pristina and Belgrade without pre-judging any future move to decide Kosovo's final status.
The idea has its origins in a 1972 pact that normalized ties between West and East Germany without prejudging the question of unification, which only happened 18 years later after the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall.
But some diplomats argue Serbia and Russia would only agree to such a pact if EU capitals in return gave guarantees that they would not recognize Kosovo independence in the meantime -- something most European countries would not be willing to do.
Serbia has offered broad autonomy for the 90 percent ethnic Albanian province, whose leaders say nothing short of full independence will do.
At least one more troika meeting with Serb and Kosovo Albanian leaders is scheduled. Serbia rejects the Dec. 10 date as an artificial deadline.
EU ministers on Monday warned Kosovo against any unilateral declaration of independence following weekend elections in the Serbian province. The EU wants Hashim Thaci, the former guerrilla leader who looks set to lead the government that emerges from Saturday's polls, to avoid any rash moves that could provoke Serbia.