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Bush Reaffirms Support for Kosovo

President Bush has met with Kosovo's leaders for the first time since the former Serbian province declared its independence in February. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports Mr. Bush conferred at the White House with both President Fatmir Seijdu and Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

President Bush says he backs an independent Kosovo, and says he told the Kosovar leaders he wants other countries to do the same.

"I pledged that the United States will continue to work with those nations that have not recognized an independent Kosovo in order to convince them to do so as quickly as possible," said President Bush.

More than 40 countries, including the United States and key members of the European Union, have recognized Kosovo's independence.  But Serbia is bitterly opposed. And Russia, which has allied itself with Belgrade on this matter, has used its veto power to block formal acceptance of the new state by the U.N. Security Council.

President Bush says if Kosovo's leaders stand by their pledge to build a multi-ethnic society, they should get full international recognition. He says any effort to split the new country along ethnic lines must be rejected. And he calls on the European Union to take over the administrative and police mission carried out by the U.N. in Kosovo since 1999.

"I'm against any partition of Kosovo," said Mr. Bush. "I believe strongly that the United Nations mission must be transferred to the EU as quickly as possible."

Kosovo's leaders vowed during the meeting with President Bush to live up to their commitments. After the talks, Prime Minister Thaci told reporters that Kosovo's government believes in equal rights for the country's sizable ethnic-Serb minority.

He said they are building a democratic Kosovo with rights for all. He said Kosovo wants excellent relations with all its neighbors, even Serbia.

Both Serbia and Kosovo have stated a desire to join the European Union, and the Kosovar leaders say they would also like to become a member of NATO. President Bush told them that he supports - what he called - their trans-Atlantic aspirations.

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