The United States Thursday hailed the ruling of the International Court of Justice, the ICJ, that Kosovo's independence declaration did not violate international law. U.S. officials are urging other countries including Serbia to recognize the former Serb province.
The United States was among the first countries to support Kosovo when it declared independence from Serbia in 2008, and it is now calling on those countries which have not yet done so to recognize the majority ethnic-Albanian state.
In a written statement, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the ICJ ruling "decisively" supported the U.S. view that Kosovo's break with Serbia was legal, and that it is an independent state whose territory is inviolable.
She appealed to both Kosovo and Serbia, which continues to reject the independence of its former province, to put aside their differences and work together constructively.
In anticipation of the ruling, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden telephoned Serbian President Boris Tadic to affirm U.S.-Serbian friendship and support for a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo, which retains a sizable Serb minority.
State Department Spokesman P.J. Crowley said the United States knows the historical and emotional aspects of Kosovo's break from Serbia, but hopes Belgrade will take a long-term view and understand that its interests lie with further integration with Europe.
"We hope they will take the long view of this," said P.J. Crowley. "We understand this is difficult, but we think it's in Serbia's interest to work constructively with Kosovo, establish improved relations with Kosovo and others, and [they] will be rewarded if they take those steps."
Vice President Biden met in Washington Wednesday with Kosovo's Prime Minister Hashim Thaci, and reaffirmed U.S. support for the young country, which had been a United Nations protectorate for a decade before independence.
The White House said Biden welcomed progress in Kosovo on reforms to strengthen the rule of law and integrate minority communities, while commending Mr. Thaci's stated willingness to work with all countries including Serbia to advance regional stability.
In an appearance in Congress Thursday, Mr. Thaci said he hoped the ICJ ruling will spur broader diplomatic recognition for his country.
"I call again in the name of the government of Kosovo, the people of Kosovo, please recognize the independence of Kosovo, because it is their right, and this is the right time," said Prime Minister Thaci.
Nearly 70 countries including most European Union member states have recognized Kosovo but holdouts include China, neighboring Serbia, and Belgrade's key diplomatic ally Russia.
Moscow has recognized the self-declared independence of Georgian regions South Ossetia and Abkhazia. But State Department Spokesman Crowley insisted the ICJ ruling does not strengthen the independence claim of those two areas or that of the breakaway Moldovan region of Trans-Dniester.
"Anyone who reads the ruling will see that this was a specific judgment based on facts unique to Kosovo," he said. "We certainly don't think it applies to other circumstances."
Crowley said the court ruling removes all legal uncertainty about Kosovo's status but said it is premature to discuss withdrawing the NATO-led international security force there, KFOR.