Kosovo Gains Recognition By U.S., Some in Europe

Poor and mostly Muslim but feverishly pro-Western, Kosovo declared independence from Serbia on Sunday, ending a long chapter in the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia. U.S. President George Bush hailed the newly independent Kosovo and officially recognized it as a state and a "close friend" on Monday.
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, February 19, 2008; Page A09

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo, Feb. 19 -- The United States and the European Union's largest countries recognized the independence of Kosovo on Monday, a major boost for the fledgling state, which still faces intense opposition from Russia, Serbia and even some Western European countries over its proclaimed status.

President Bush, traveling in Africa, hailed the new state's "special friendship" with the United States, promising to set up a U.S. embassy there and inviting Kosovo to establish a diplomatic mission in Washington. Asked Tuesday about Russia's opposition, Bush told reporters, "There's a disagreement, but we believe as do many other nations that history will prove this to be the correct move."

In a letter Monday to President Fatmir Sejdiu, Bush said, "On behalf of the American people, I hereby recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who first announced the U.S. decision, tried to placate the Serbs, and by extension their closest allies, the Russians. "We invite Serbia's leaders to work together with the United States and our partners to accomplish shared goals," she said in a statement.

In a widely expected move, Kosovo's independence from Serbia was declared Sunday by its parliament, dominated by ethnic Albanians. The decision has divided the European Union, which is to supervise independence and replace a U.N. mission that has acted as the province's overseer since Serbian forces withdrew from Kosovo in 1999.

What happens next is unclear. Russia and Serbia have called on the United Nations to overturn the independence declaration, and Russia appears likely to try to block any attempt to wind down the U.N. mission here and turn it over to the E.U.

At an emergency U.N. Security Council session, Serbian President Boris Tadic warned that Kosovo's act would embolden other separatists and that Serbia's relations with Kosovo's supporters would be harmed. "If you allow this illegal act to stand," he told council members, "you will show that right and justice may go unrespected in the world. You will show that, unfortunately, this body of the world organization is losing its authority."

Tadic reiterated Serbia's commitment to forgo violence against Kosovo, but his foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic, said, "Serbia is going to fight tooth and nail, diplomatically and politically" to reverse this "illegal decision."

Secretary General Ban Ki-moon made it clear that the United Nations would continue to support Kosovo as it begins its transition to full independence, but he sidestepped a question about whether Kosovo's declaration was legal. "I know that the independence of Kosovo has been recognized by a number of countries, and I'd like to remind you that the recognition of states is for the states and not for the U.N. Secretariat," Ban said. "I'm not here to say if it is legal or illegal."

American and some E.U. diplomats say they think Ban can order the transition without referring the issue to the Security Council, where Russia holds veto power.

Alexander Botsan-Kharchenko, an official in the Russian Foreign Ministry, told the news agency Interfax that Moscow "expects the head of the U.N. Mission in Kosovo to invalidate the resolution of the Pristina parliament."

Members of Kosovo's Serb minority insist they will never recognize the declaration of independence. The vast majority of them appear determined not to cooperate with E.U. oversight, though it is intended to guarantee their rights in Kosovo, which is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

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