The United States has congratulated Serbian President Boris Tadic on his re-election and pledged assistance for that country's integration with Europe. The election precedes an expected independence move by Kosovo, a U.N.-administered Serbian province, later this month. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The United States has joined European allies in welcoming the outcome of the Serbian election, in which Mr. Tadic - the pro-Western incumbent president - narrowly turned back a challenge by a hard-line Serb nationalist, Tomislav Nicolic.

In a talk with reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack congratulated Tadic and his Serbian Democratic Party on the victory and called the nearly 70 percent turnout for Sunday's voting remarkable.

McCormack said the election had important implications for Serbia's future, and he made clear the Bush administration will support efforts to bring Serbia, a diplomatic outcast after the 1990's Balkan conflicts, into the European mainstream.

"We look forward to continuing our efforts to build a productive relationship with Serbia on matters of common interest. President Tadic promised voters a European future for Serbia," he said. "We will work with President Tadic and Serbia to see that promise fulfilled and Serbia firmly on a path toward European integration."

U.S. officials had been closely monitoring the Serbian election, given the expectation of an independence declaration by Kosovo later this month.

Both President Tadic and his election rival Mr. Nicolic oppose independence for the U.N.-administered province.

But Mr. Tadic has been more conciliatory on the issue, and is considered likely to continue pursuing closer ties with the European Union and the United States, even if they recognize Kosovo statehood.

Spokesman McCormack declined under questioning to discuss the implications of the election for Kosovo, saying only that U.S. policy on the issue is unchanged.

The United States has long supported supervised independence for the majority ethnic-Albanian region, as proposed last year by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari. It sponsored, along with the European Union and Russia, a final set of negotiations between Serbia and Kosovar authorities late last year that failed to resolve the impasse between them.

U.S. officials reject the contention of Moscow, Serbia's main diplomatic supporter, that Kosovo independence would inflame other separatist conflicts in Europe and elsewhere.

They say the circumstances in Kosovo, where NATO intervened in 1999 to halt a Serb crackdown on ethnic-Albanians, are unique.

Kosovo is expected to be a key agenda issue for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice when she visits London for talks Wednesday with British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Foreign Secretary David Miliband.