The troika of major powers leading new talks on Kosovo said that
partition of the breakaway territory, once taboo, could be an
option if Serbs and Albanians agreed to it.
Western policy on Kosovo previously ruled out partition, arguing it could spark regional conflict.
Any division would be likely to leave the northern slice - where
about half of Kosovo's 100,000 Serbs live - as part of
"It is the principle of the troika to be prepared to endorse any agreement which both parties manage to achieve.
That includes all options," the European Union's envoy, Wolfgang
Ischinger, told a news conference.
Asked if that included splitting the territory in two, he replied: "If they want that."
Both Serbia and the Kosovo Albanians have said they do not want partition, but have also shown no sign of conceding on the main issue - Kosovo's independence.
"We are urging both sides to think outside the box," said Ischinger.
"If both sides repeat their classic positions, there is little
hope for compromise or bridge-building."
He said an agreed solution presented to the UN Security Council would be in the best interests of all concerned.
The troika comprises envoys from the United States, the EU and Russia in what the West hopes will be a final push for compromise on the fate of the Albanian-majority Serb province.
Diplomats say it may only buy time before Kosovo declares independence unilaterally, eight years after NATO wrested control of the territory from Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia.
Western diplomats have argued that splitting Kosovo in two could revive insurgencies among ethnic Albanians in Serbia's southern Presevo Valley and neighbouring Macedonia, ended in 2001 by EU and NATO diplomacy.
But partition has been on the lips of commentators for months as a possible - albeit risky - way out of the impasse.
Some analysts say Serbia is privately banking on it, and
Ischinger's comments appeared to break the ice.
The troika was on its first visit to Kosovo since Moscow blocked a UN plan to give Kosovo EU-supervised independence at the UN Security Council.
The West has reluctantly agreed to four more months of talks on
top of more than a year of sterile Serb-Albanian dialogue that
ended in March.
Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999, when NATO bombed to drive out Serb forces and halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians in a two-year separatist war.
Serbia has offered autonomy, but no suggestion of how it would integrate, let alone police, two million hostile Albanians - 90% of the population.
NATO powers leading 16,000 troops in the province fear unrest if
the West is seen to renege on its promise of independence.
Kosovo leaders told the troika on Saturday they expected independence in 2007.
They have threatened to declare independence unilaterally and
seek recognition from Western powers, a move certain to split the
The troika is due to the United Nations by December 10.