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US Recognizes Kosovo, Reaffirms Friendship With Serbia

The United States joined major European allies in recognizing the independence of Kosovo from Serbia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said recognition is the only viable option to promote stability in the region. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. recognition of Kosovo came as no surprise, since the Bush administration strongly supported last year's plan of U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari to give the breakaway Serbian province internationally-supervised independence.

In a written statement that followed recognition announcements by several U.S. European allies, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said independence is the only viable option for stability, given the region's turbulent history.

Rice rejected the notion advanced by Russia and others that Kosovo independence will spur other secessionist movements, saying it cannot be seen as a precedent elsewhere.

She said the unusual combination of factors in Kosovo's recent history, including ethnic-cleansing against its ethnic-Albanian majority, are not found elsewhere and make it a special case.

At the same time, Rice reaffirmed U.S. friendship with Serbia and urged Belgrade - which bitterly opposed independence - to work with the United States and its EU partners on shared goals including the protection of Kosovo's Serb minority.

[In Belgrade, Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica told parliament the U.S. continues a policy of using force against his country, and ordered the ambassador, Ivan Bujacic, to return home.]

In a telephone conference call with reporters, Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns stressed the U.S. interest in good relations with Serbia and in helping Belgrade - a diplomatic outcast since the 1990's Balkans conflict - find a future with Europe:

"We see Serbia as part of Europe and we know that the Balkans is the last part of Europe that has not received the benefits of the end of the Cold War, economic or political," said Nicholas Burns. "Yugoslavia had to break up, and it did, and this is the last vestige of the former Yugoslavia - the fact that Kosovo has now become free and independent. Now we hope the Serb people, the Kosovars, the Bosnians, the Montenegrins, the Croatians, Albanians, Macedonians - all of them - can look towards a future in Europe, and that is with the EU and NATO."

Burns said Rice, in Africa with President Bush, telephoned Serbian President Boris Tadic to stress that theme Sunday and also talked to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose government has called Kosovo's independence move illegal.

The under-secretary said the Bush administration has been deferential to Russia and delayed recognizing Kosovo to allow for more negotiations between Serbia and the Kosovars co-chaired by Moscow, the United States, and European Union, the so-called Troika.

He said when those talks failed late last year, it was time to move ahead on recognition, but he expects no fundamental rift with Moscow that will harm other areas of U.S.-Russian cooperation:

"For countries to say somehow this [recognition] is a shock, or that this is not a correct step politically or legally, we just fundamentally disagree with that point," said Burns. "So I do not expect any kind of crisis with Russia over this. We expect the Russians to be supportive of stability in the region. And I think that all of us are going to be requesting that people remain calm, and that the Kosovar authorities be allowed to establish this government and to move forward."

Burns stressed that the 17,000 - member NATO force in Kosovo, which includes 1,600 U.S. troops, will remain indefinitely along with European Union police to assure security and protect the interests of the ethnic-Serbs

He said the United States and European partners are planning a donor's conference for Kosovo in the coming months to support the newly-independent government and that it can expect $335 million in bilateral U.S. aid for 2008, a four-fold increase over last year.