The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Friday extended applause to the proposal tabled by UN special envoy Martti Ahtisaari on the status of Serbia 's Kosovo.
"President Ahtisaari has presented a way forward on this issue which offers the prospect of a better, more secure future for the entire region, including through integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures," said the NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer in a statement.
"On behalf of NATO, I express my appreciation to President Ahtisaari for his tireless efforts, and welcome his proposals. Belgrade and Pristina should now engage fully with President Ahtisaari in a spirit of flexibility and compromise," he added.
The NATO chief urged all relevant parties to "act responsibly" during this sensitive period.
"NATO will continue to play its full part in providing a safe and secure environment in Kosovo, through and beyond a status decision," he said, adding that the NATO force in Kosovo would respond firmly to any attempts to use violence to disrupt the political process.
The statement came after Ahtisaari handed the settlement proposal to Serbian President Boris Tadic in Belgrade on Friday. It suggests that Kosovo will not return to Serbian rule and will obtain legal status that permits other countries to eventually recognize it as an independent state.
Kosovo has been run by the UN mission since 1999 when NATO bombings forced the late Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces, who was accused of killing 10,000 ethnic Albanians during a counter-insurgency war. The province of 2 million is cherished by Serbia for its cultural and religious heritage.
NATO has been leading a peacekeeping operation in Kosovo since June 1999 in support of wider international efforts to build peace and stability in the contested province.
NATO has about 16,000 troops deployed in Kosovo. The 26-member military alliance has promised to support the security provisions of any final settlement.