Only independent Kosovo can stabilize Balkans: Rice

NEW YORK Mon Sep 24, 2007 6:36pm EDT

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Only independence for Kosovo can bring stability in the Balkans, and Europe should join the United States in backing statehood for the breakaway Serbian province, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Monday.

In an interview with Reuters, she said talks brokered by the European Union, Russia and the United States had some chance of achieving an "amicable outcome" even if Kosovo and Serbia did not agree on the final status of the territory.

"But there's going to be an independent Kosovo. We're dedicated to that. It's the only solution that is potentially stabilizing for the Balkans rather than destabilizing for the Balkans," Rice said.

The U.S.-led NATO alliance waged an air war in 1999 to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo and end ethnic cleansing of the 2 million ethnic Albanians who make up 90 percent of the province's population.

Representatives of Belgrade and the Kosovo Albanians hold the first direct talks in New York on Friday since major powers agreed in July to allow another 120 days to try to negotiate an agreed solution.

That period expires on December 10, when the mediators are to report to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

SHARED CONCERNS

Rice said she had shared concerns that neither side would negotiate seriously because Serbia felt assured of a Russian veto of any U.N. resolution granting Kosovo independence, and the Kosovo Albanians felt they could count on U.S. recognition of a unilateral declaration of independence.

"We've told the Kosovars that we don't think a unilateral declaration of independence is a very good idea," she said, although lower-ranking U.S. officials have suggested Washington would recognize such a declaration.

Asked how she expected Kosovo's final status to be determined, Rice said: "I think it will take the United States and Europe together on this.

"The Europeans ... know the Balkans is ultimately much closer to Europe than to the United States, and if they need a stable Balkans, they're going to have to take the tough decisions and do the right thing," she said.

The European Union is divided on independence for Kosovo, with a small group of countries with their own minority or regional separatist concerns reluctant to recognize the territory's sovereignty without a U.N. resolution.

Those countries include Slovakia, Romania, Cyprus, Greece and to a lesser extent Spain.

But EU foreign ministers agreed on September 6 to stay united and work for a common position on Kosovo, declaring the credibility of their common foreign policy is at stake.

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