By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website
Kosovo's fate is proving prickly for international diplomats
Kosovo will declare its independence almost immediately if there is no deal reached with Serbia before a December deadline, Kosovo's leaders said in London on Tuesday.
Prime Minister Agim Ceku said: "This will happen in a couple of days if the deadline runs out."
The Kosovan leaders want supporting countries, of which Britain is one, to offer pre-arranged recognition at once.
Mr Ceku was in London with the Kosovan President Fatmir Sejdiu to meet the British Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and other officials.
Without an agreement, a region that saw Nato wage war on Serbia to make its forces leave Kosovo in 1999, would not find the settled political way forward that international diplomacy has been seeking.
It could precipitate another crisis between Russia and the West, with the United States and at least some European Union states recognising Kosovo as an independent country.
Russia would object, having always said that no final steps should be taken without the agreement of both Kosovo and Serbia.
If the US and some EU states do recognise Kosovo, as appears inevitable, Russia might be tempted to recognise three enclaves in Georgia and Moldova that have looked to Russia for support. These enclaves are Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Georgia, and Trans-Dniester in Moldova.
A British official dismissed the threat, saying that Kosovo was "clearly unique". The official all but confirmed that Britain would recognise an independent Kosovo by saying that a UN-sponsored plan for "supervised" independence was the best way forward without an agreement.
Britain's attitude could also be gauged by the fact that it offered one of the finest rooms in the Foreign Office, the Locarno Room, for the Kosovan news conference.
The UN has set a deadline of 10 December for the Kosovo negotiations. The talks reached deadlock in New York last month and will be taken up again in Brussels on 14 October, with no hopes of progress evident.
The point at issue is quite simple. Kosovo wants to be independent. Serbia wants it to be autonomous.
The Kosovo leadership has accepted a plan proposed by a UN appointed mediator, Martti Ahtisaari, for "supervised" independence. This independence would not allow Kosovo to join Albania (most people in Kosovo are ethnic Albanians).
The plan is subject to three other principles: no division of Kosovo (some Serb areas might otherwise want to stay with Serbia); no return to the situation before the war of 1999 (that means no return of Kosovo to Serbian sovereignty); and acceptance by the people of Kosovo.
Serbia has countered with an offer for Kosovo to be given substantial autonomy within the Serbian state, a proposal rejected by the Kosovo Albanians. Serbia argues that some key events of its history took place there and that it should not have these taken away.
Russia has blocked a Security Council resolution giving effect to the Ahtisaari proposal. It argues that any unilateral declaration of independence by Kosovo would have no legal basis and should not be accepted by other countries.
EU split possible
There could also be a secondary crisis within the EU, if a unanimous position cannot be found. At the moment, it looks as if there would be a split.
Britain, France and Germany are expected to lead the way calling for recognition but Greece, Cyprus, Romania and Slovakia have all indicated that they would need UN approval first.
The EU seeks to formulate a joint foreign policy, but if no common position can be found, states can go their own way.