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Serbian Leader Warns Against Kosovo Independence

Serbian President warned Thursday in Washington that independence for the Serbian province of Kosovo would create a dangerous precedent for the Balkans and elsewhere. The Belgrade official is holding talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials focusing on the issue of Kosovo's future status.

Although U.S.-Serbian relations have been strained by that country's failure to apprehend Balkans war crimes figures, Mr. Tadic is getting top-level access on his Washington visit, including meetings with Secretary Rice and Vice President Dick Cheney.

The visit comes as U.N.-mediated talks in Vienna on the final status of Kosovo are entering a critical phase. The Serbian president is stressing his opposition to independence for the majority ethnic-Albanian province of Serbia, which has been under U.N. administration since 1999.

In a talk with reporters after meeting Secretary Rice, Mr. Tadic said his government, which has advocated autonomy, but not independence for Kosovo, has no intention of running the political life of the Kosovo Albanian community.

But he said Serbia wants to uphold the rights of the Kosovo's Serb minority and defend Serbian national interests. And he said making the province independent would have negative implications for the region and beyond.

"Future status of Kosovo is very important for the stability of Kosovo. But, at the some time, that can be a precedent, if Kosovo is going to become an independent country, a precedent very dangerous, not only for the Balkans, but for other regions in the world," he said.

Mr. Tadic, a pro-Western Serbian politician elected in 2004, said the issue of indicted Balkans war crimes suspects still at large is not related to Kosovo.

The fact that former Bosnian-Serb president Radovan Karadzic and his military chief, Ratko Mladic, have not been apprehended has strained Serbia's relations with the United States and the European Union, and led the U.S. Congress to cut aid to Belgrade.

Mr. Tadic and Secretary Rice did sign a status-of-forces agreement defining the legal status of any U.S. military personnel, who may operate on Serbian soil.

The United States has similar accords with more than 100 other countries. The Serbian president said he hoped the agreement would be a springboard to more military cooperation, and open the way to private U.S. investment in his country.