US to prevent Russian independence veto on Kosovo
January 20, 2007 1:16 AM
WASHINGTON-The U.S. government is pushing for a quick resolution on Kosovo's final status following the planned release of a United Nations proposal that could lead to independence for Serbia's breakaway province.
The United States is signaling that it will work to prevent Russia from using its veto in the U.N. Security Council to delay imposition of a settlement. Russia insists that any outcome must be acceptable to Serbia.
A special U.N. envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, is expected to recommend some form of independence for Kosovo when he issues a report in coming weeks. That report had been delayed, with the blessing of the United States and the European Union, so it would not inflame nationalist sentiment in Serbia ahead of national elections, and thereby hurt moderate politicians.
With the elections planned for Sunday, a senior U.S. government official said the White House would now like to see the process move quickly to a final settlement and approval by the U.N. Security Council. The official spoke on condition of anonymity, because he was not authorized to speak publicly.
Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried recently told the Voice of America that a consultation period with the Serbs and Kosovars would follow release of the Ahtisaari plan, but he signaled that the U.S. government would not let the negotiations drag on.
"We really can't stay where we are because it's been almost eight years, and the Kosovars and the Serbs both deserve to see this issue resolved so they can get on with their lives and have a future," he said.
Kosovo has been an international protectorate since 1999, when NATO airstrikes halted a brutal Serb crackdown on the province's ethnic Albanian Muslim majority. Belgrade has insisted that Kosovo, cherished by Serbs as the heart of their homeland, remain part of Serbia.
U.S. policy long has favored Kosovar independence, although some within the administration of President George W. Bush and in Congress have warned against alienating Serbs and undermining liberal and democratic Serbian politicians.
Pressure has increased on the White House from the new Democratic Congress. Democratic leaders of the committees that deal with foreign policy are strong proponents of independence for the mostly Muslim province.
The chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Joseph Biden, is urging the Bush administration to make the final push for independence with muscular diplomacy.
"In the next few months, adroit diplomacy to secure Kosovo's independence could yield a victory for Muslim democracy, a better future for southeast Europe and validation for the judicious use of American power," Biden wrote in an opinion piece published in London's Financial Times on Jan. 2.
Some Congressional aides say that in the event of a Russian Security Council veto, pressure will grow for the United States and allies to recognize Kosovo directly, outside the U.N. framework.
"The Kosovo independence train has left the station," said Antony Blinken, Biden's staff director, in a statement sent to The Associated Press.
Biden's counterpart in the House of Representatives, Democrat Tom Lantos, also conveyed a sense of urgency on the issue by proposing a resolution on Jan. 5, the second day of the new Congress, that backs Kosovar independence and warns that further delay could lead to instability. The measure was co-sponsored by the top Republican member on Lantos' Foreign Affairs Committee, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.
Republican Sen. George Voinovich, also a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, who is of Serbian and Slovenian descent, has expressed concern in the past about rushing toward independence. But he said it is in Serbia's interest to eventually let the province go. He remains insistent that any settlement protect Kosovo's minority Serb population and have the support of the Serbian government.
"It is absolutely critical that before the U.N. Security Council decision is finalized, there is infrastructure for enacting the plan and protecting the rights of Kosovo's minority populations," Voinovich said.
"This plan cannot be successful without adequate infrastructure, including funding, troops, international police, international prosecutors, and the help and support of the government of Serbia."
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