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Serb Official in Washington Urges US to Reconsider Position on Kosovo

Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic was in Washington Friday where he met with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other high-level U.S. officials, mainly to discuss the contentious issue of independence for the disputed Serbian province of Kosovo. VOA's Barry Wood reports Serbia's opposition to Kosovo independence is at odds with the U.S. position.

Speaking to reporters at the National Press Club, Mr. Jeremic said all the democratic gains Serbia has made since the overthrow of Slobodan Milosevic in 2000 will be at risk if Kosovo, against Belgrade's wishes, is declared independent.

"And if we (Serbia) falter, so will the rest of the region. For just as our success is guaranteed to propel the Western Balkans forward, real danger exists that Serbia's plunge back into her recent past could hurl the region back to the 1990s," he said.

At issue is a proposal put forward by the U.N. envoy on the future status of Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari. The proposal calls for independence for Kosovo, a Serbian province with an ethnic-Albanian majority.

On one side, supporting the Ahtisaari proposal, are Kosovo's ethnic Albanians, the United States and its European allies. On the other are Russia and the Serbian government. Belgrade instead has proposed autonomy for the Serbian province.

The Harvard-educated Jeremic, 32, says Serbia wants to work with Washington, Brussels and Moscow to find a settlement acceptable to both Serbs and Kosovar Albanians. U.S. and European officials have agreed to allow 120 days for further negotiations in a last attempt to reach an agreement.

But the Serbian official complained that the position of the Bush administration, which says it will recognize Kosovo's independence if resumed status negotiations fail, means Washington has already made up of its mind. "So, I fail to see any incentive whatsoever for the Albanian side to do anything during these 120 days (of resumed negotiations) but, like, just waiting it out," he said.

Jeremic said there must not be a solution in which one side wins and the other loses. That outcome, he said, would fuel a new cycle of resentment and resolve to remedy perceived injustice. The future of Albanians and Serbs, said Jeremic, is membership in the European Union and NATO.