The State Department's number three official, Nicholas Burns, appeared Tuesday before the House Foreign Affairs Committee and strongly endorsed recommendations for Kosovo's independence from Serbia promulgated by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari, former president of Finland. VOA's Barry Wood has more.
Mr. Burns said he is optimistic that the United Nations Security Council will approve arrangements that will lead to Kosovo's independence. He said the United States and European Union countries are hoping that Russia, an ally of Serbia, will not use its veto to block a Security Council resolution.
"I sense that we already have enough votes to win by majority in the Security Council," he said. "And so we would hope that no permanent member would exercise the right of veto and would therefore allow this to go forward."
Serbia opposes independence for the southern province that was taken away in 1999 after NATO intervened to halt Serbian oppression of the ethnic-Albanian majority. Burns says the U.S. and Europe, partners in stabilizing Kosovo, have determined that after eight years of United Nations administration, it is time to move Kosovo to supervised independence.
"We became convinced in looking at it, all of us, that the prospects of violence would be greater if we waited," he said. "Because 92 percent to 94 percent of the people who now live in Kosovo are Albanian Moslems. And they've been waiting [for status] a long, long time."
Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, who was born in Hungary, similarly endorsed independence and underlined his view by repeatedly referring to the province with its Albanian pronunciation Kosova. He said that because the plan put forward by U.N. envoy Ahtisaari includes strong safeguards for the Serb minority, Serbia is its principal beneficiary. He said U.S. endorsement of Kosovo independence sends a strong positive message to Muslim and Arab countries.
"In this instance the United States stands four square for the creation of an overwhelmingly Muslim country in the very heart of Europe," he said.
But Republican Dan Burton, another committee member, criticized the Ahtisaari plan, saying independence could have negative consequences.
"If we impose this and we pass it through the Security Council as you [Burns]suggested and all hell breaks loose over there, what are we going to do then," he said
Burns said that while some Serbs might leave after independence, he is confident that NATO-led peacekeepers who remain in the territory will keep order. Burns said that, in the next few weeks, the United States will introduce a Security Council resolution that will lead to Kosovo's independence.