Russian and U.S. negotiators wrestled inconclusively today over the role, size and command of a Russian contingent for the international peacekeeping force in Kosovo and agreed to resume talks on Friday.

Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott met with Russian officials -- including President Boris Yeltsin's special Balkans envoy, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin, and a top military representative -- on the problem of adding Russian troops to the operation while maintaining NATO control of the peacekeepers, known as the Kosovo Force (KFOR).

Talbott said afterward that the talks were a "work in progress" and made clear that a compromise on the command issue had not been found. He said NATO was against allowing Russia a separate command. "Unity of command is absolutely crucial," he said, with NATO insisting that one of its officer be in overall charge and report to the North Atlantic Council, NATO's political arm. "If we get this wrong, KFOR isn't going to work," he added, but he expressed hope that there is still "room for a solution."

Russian Gen. Leonid Ivashov, head of the international cooperation department of the Defense Ministry, told reporters before today's meeting that Russia would insist that "the Russian contingent is under Russian command." He added, "This is the president's decision, and it cannot be otherwise." One compromise might involve a formula such as the one used in Bosnia, where the Russians have their own command structure under the umbrella of NATO. But some Russian officials have said the Bosnia model is unacceptable this time because of Russian anger over NATO's bombing of Yugoslavia.

Russian officials were also quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying Russia will seek its own sector to control in Kosovo, and it appeared this was another sticking point. NATO has divided the province into five sectors -- one each for Britain, the United States, France, Italy and Germany. So far, no sector assignment for Russia has been announced.

Talbott said there had been no decision on the size of a Russian force, either; speculation here in recent days has ranged from 2,500 to 10,000 troops. Ivashov said they could be ready to deploy quickly, and Defense Minister Igor Sergeyev has issued a preliminary order to 2,500 airborne troops to prepare for departure, Interfax reported.

Another difficult question -- who will pay for the Russian troops -- did not come up, Talbott said. Stepashin told a cabinet meeting that the costs would be absorbed by the Russian budget, which often has been drastically underfunded when it comes to actual allocations.

Yeltsin spoke with President Clinton today, the third conversation they have had this week about Kosovo. Yeltsin also issued a statement praising the bombing halt. Although Yeltsin's envoy, Chernomyrdin, has been the subject of public complaints that he helped NATO defeat Yugoslavia, Stepashin today expressed support for Chernomyrdin.