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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Unity Needed in the Kosovo Talks

Eight years ago, the West went to war over the fate of Kosovo, the impoverished scrap of land that is chiefly populated by ethnic Albanians but still formally part of Serbia.

By now, according to plans drawn up in Brussels and Washington, Kosovo was due to be firmly on the path to independence. But that outcome looks a long way away. Russian intransigence has blocked the passage of a plan proposed by Martti Ahtisaari, a United Nations special envoy, which would have prepared Kosovo, now under UN administration, for independence under the auspices of the European Union.

In response to this nyet -- effected without so much as a vote at the UN Security Council -- the EU and the Unites States have given a good impression of grasping at straws. Washington has signaled that it would recognize a unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo by the end of the year -- even though without a UN resolution, the issues of the country's status and administration would still be far from resolved. The EU is much more reluctant about such a path.

All the same, the most recent international effort to find a deal that both Serbia and Kosovo can sign up to is broadly along the right lines. Envoys from the United States, the EU and Russia will together meet the Serbs and the Kosovars rather than separately dealing with their own clients. They will have to report back to the UN by Dec. 10. Western diplomats admit chances of success are slight. But since their central argument is correct -- that it is in both parties' interest to have a lasting political settlement -- it is well worth making an effort one more time. The risks of political turmoil and economic decay in Kosovo make this a matter of urgency.

So far this summer, Kosovo's inhabitants have shown patience and forbearance. They will need to continue to do so in the run-up to November elections. In addition, the EU and the United States must make every effort to ensure that they do not split over whether to recognize Kosovo as independent without a resolution from the UN Security Council. It is all very well for the two sides of the Atlantic to perform a "good cop, bad cop" routine when dealing with Serbia, but they cannot afford this being shown up as more than mere show.

After Dec.10, the Americans and Europeans may well have to decide whether the priority is to transfer Kosovo's administration to the EU by means of a UN vote or to recognize it as independent without a UN consensus. But it would be better for all concerned if that unenviable choice were never made. For now, in its search for a solution, the West must put a premium on unity -- and a bit of ingenuity.

This comment appeared as an editorial in the Financial Times.