A senior U.S. official is urging Serbia to follow a path toward European integration rather than one that would lead toward isolation.  Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried's comments come as Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica again appealed to his country's political parties to reject closer ties with the European Union unless the bloc supports Serbia's claim to Kosovo.  VOA's Deborah Tate reports from Capitol Hill, where Fried testified before a Senate panel.

In the wake of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia, Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried says the Serbian government faces a key decision: whether to move toward European integration or self-imposed isolation.

"President (Boris) Tadic firmly, consistently, has opposed Kosovo's independence," Fried said. "He also has been a proponent of Serbia's integration into Europe despite Kosovo's independence.  (Prime Minister) Kostunica seems to have a different view, and I think a policy of self-isolationism is, unfortunately, an accurate way to describe what he is doing.  The Serbs will have to sort this out."

In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Fried said there is a latent, but very large constituency for a European future for Serbia within the Serbian population.  He said it will take leadership to mobilize that constituency, and says the United States looks forward to working with leaders who can do it.

Fried rejected arguments that independence for Kosovo sets a precedent for other separatist conflicts.

"Kosovo's independence is the result of the break-up of Yugoslavia into many successor nations," Fried said. "The Kosovo situation includes many factors simply not found elsewhere."

The assistant secretary estimated that Kosovo will need some two billion dollars of development assistance over several years from the United States, the European Union, the World Bank and International Monetary Fund:

"We have to help the Kosovars get modern institutions up and running.  We have to help them create an investment climate," Fried said. "We have to help them slowly force out corruption, which is going to be a drain on the whole economy."

In the aftermath of last month's attacks on the Belgrade embassies of the United States and other countries that recognized Kosovo independence, Fried urged Serbs throughout the region to refrain from further violence:

"Within Kosovo, we have also witnessed provocations and Serbian incitement to violence," Fried said. "Serbs and anyone else have the right to protest Kosovo's independence. But there is no right of violence or intimidation.  We urge leaders throughout the region to show responsibility." 

The chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, Democratic Senator Joe Biden of Delaware, said the international community should be prepared to respond to any such violence in the future:

"Any attempt by Belgrade to sow chaos in northern Kosovo or Bosnia's Republic of Serpska should be dealt with quickly and decisively by the European Union and Nato," Biden said. "Serbia's actions should also be a factor in the decision of foreign investors, who are considering projects in their country."

Assistant Secretary Fried urged Russia to appeal for calm in a way that would - in his words - be heard unambiguously by Serbia and by the Serbs in Kosovo and Bosnia-Herzegovina.