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US VP Biden Concludes Balkan Tour In Kosovo


U.S. Vice President Joe Biden has assured Kosovo's ethnic Albanian leaders that the territory's declaration of independence from Serbia will not be reversed. The vice president concluded his three-day tour of the Balkans Thursday before going on to Lebanon.

Vice President Biden's visit to Kosovo's capital, Pristina, is the first by a senior U.S. official since the former territory declared independence from Serbia last year.

Amid a welcoming crowd, Biden reaffirmed previous U.S. statements that an independent Kosovo is a priority in Washington. "Kosovo's independence was and remains today, in my view and in the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region. And your independence, as I have said in the countries I have visited, your independence is irreversible, absolutely irreversible," he said.

Biden spoke before the Kosovo Assembly, met with the president and prime minister, and visited U.S. troops assigned to the NATO peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Pristina was decorated with posters and banners thanking the U.S. for supporting independence and for leading a military campaign in 1999 to drive Serb forces out and end the Kosovo war.

Serbia has said it will never accept an independent Kosovo, and many Serbs see the U.S. as anti-Serb. Ljubomir Kragovic, of the Serb Radical Party, was not happy about Biden's visit.

He said the U.S. vice president was walking around Kosovo, a state he created with his friends. Kragovic said Serbs have the right to say they do not accept Kosovo as an independent state.

Earlier, Biden met with Serbian officials in Belgrade. Serbia's leaders praised Biden for saying Washington will not pressure Serbia into recognizing Kosovo's independence as a precondition for U.S. support of Serbia's bid to join the European Union.

Biden moves on to Beirut on Friday, to meet with Lebanese President Michel Suleiman, Prime Minister Fuad Siniora and parliament speaker Nabih Berri. The White House says the trip is to express U.S. support for an independent, sovereign Lebanon.

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