Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Wednesday she will travel to the Balkans next month to push for reconciliation between Serbia and Kosovo. Clinton discussed Balkans issues, the Middle East and Iran with European Union chief diplomat Catherine Ashton.
Clinton's planned Balkans trip in two weeks reflects U.S. concern about stability in the region and the need to ease tensions between Kosovo and Serbia, which has never formally accepted the independence of its former province.
The mainly-ethnic Albanian region declared its independence in 2008 in a move recognized by some 70 countries including the United States, but not by the Belgrade government and its political ally, Russia.
The U.N. General Assembly earlier this month adopted a resolution calling for dialogue between Serbia and Kosovo and Serbian President Boris Tadic has said talks will begin soon.
Related video report by Keida Kostreci
Meeting reporters after talks with European chief diplomat Ashton, the Secretary of State said the United States will work with the EU on an outcome that will bring greater European integration for both Serbia and Kosovo.
"I am very much looking forward to my visit to both Belgrade and Pristina and the opportunity not only to speak with leaders, but also with citizens," Secretary Clinton said. "Because it's important that we keep the goal of that future in the minds of both Serbs and Kosovars, because there are difficult issues that they will have to resolve. The European Union and the United States stand ready to assist and facilitate, to support and cajole that the parties do reach these agreements with each other. But ultimately, it is up to the leaders and the people that will have to come to a decision about their future."
Ashton, for her part, said the EU is seeking forward movement on the issue and that she is encouraged about the stated commitment to talks by both Mr. Tadic and Kosovo Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.
"It's incredibly important in moving forward with Belgrade and Pristina that we are working together, and that is a message that we have said to President Tadic, Prime Minister Thaci, when I met with them last week, that we need to all engage in this process and to be, as we are, constructive in our dialogue to try and find the way forward, which, as you know, I believe for both, is a European future," she said.
Clinton will visit Serbia, Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina in a Balkans trip beginning the week after next. She is also due to meet NATO officials in Brussels.
U.S. officials have been concerned about inter-ethnic political tensions in Bosnia-Herzegovina that could undermine the political peace that has prevailed there since the 1995 Dayton peace accords that ended years of brutal warfare in the region.
Clinton and Ashton reviewed efforts by the United States and EU to sustain direct Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, threatened by Sunday's expiration of the 10-month Israeli freeze on most West Bank settlement activity.
Ashton said here she would depart for the region late Wednesday to join U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell in diplomatic trouble-shooting.
Ashton and Mitchell are expected to meet Thursday in Jerusalem.