Kosovo leaders assure U.S. of intentions
WASHINGTON – Kosovo’s leaders told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Monday that the breakaway province would not declare independence from Serbia without coordinating the move with the United States.In turn, Rice assured the officials, including Kosovo’s president and prime minister, that the United States was committed to achieving international recognition of Kosovo’s independence within months – even without a United Nations Security Council resolution.”The United States made clear very firmly that the issue needs to be resolved sooner rather than later,” Kosovo’s president, Fatmir Sejdiu, said in an interview with The Associated Press.The meetings in Washington come days after the Security Council set aside a resolution that Russia called a hidden route to independence.As Monday’s talks began, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Rice planned to “underline the fact that nobody gains by trying to short-circuit the diplomatic process that is under way.”The United States and the European Union said Friday they would move the forum for deciding Kosovo’s status from the Security Council to the Contact Group on Kosovo – which includes representatives from the U.S., Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Russia.U.S. and European officials have agreed to allow 120 days for further negotiations that would include talks with Kosovo and Serbia in a last attempt to reach an agreement.Sejdiu says that the United States has assured Kosovo that countries will move quickly after 120 days to recognize Kosovo’s independence. That would happen regardless of objections from other countries including Russia, according to Sejdiu.”We can see that the United States is very serious about this 120 days of engagement and this was quite an assurance,” he said. “It is quite evident that independence will be the outcome at the end of that engagement period and that independence is inevitable.”U.S. officials have said that the United States would move to recognize Kosovo within months, though they have not publicly specified the 120-day period.During a visit to neighboring Albania in June, President Bush hinted that the United States could recognize Kosovo even without Security Council consent, saying there cannot be endless negotiations over its independence.Sejdiu expressed disappointment that the Security Council was unable to reach a consensus and that the resolution on Kosovo’s future was set aside Friday in the face of a possible Russian veto.”It was a grave failure that was a big disappointment to everybody,” he said.The talks in Washington follow a comment by Kosovo’s prime minister, Agim Ceku, suggesting that the province’s parliament should adopt its own resolution setting Nov. 28 as a possible date for declaring independence.But Sejdiu said that Kosovo would not declare independence without coordinating with its allies.”Of course at a certain stage the Kosovo parliament will announce the status of Kosovo, its independence,” he said. “But this will only be done in a close partnership and agreement with the countries that support Kosovo’s independence.”Sejdiu said that delay beyond the 120 days could lead to political instability in Kosovo. The moderate political forces represented by the delegation are under pressure from more radical parties and the public to show that they will deliver independence.Although Kosovo remains a province of Serbia, it has been under U.N. and NATO administration since a 78-day NATO-led air war halted a Serb crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists in 1999.In April, the U.N.’s special envoy on Kosovo, Martti Ahtisaari, recommended Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence.On Thursday, U.S. officials, including Rice, will discuss the province’s future with Serbia’s foreign minister, Vuk Jeremic in Washington.