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U.S. formally recognizes Kosovo
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States formally recognized Kosovo on Monday and said independence from Serbia for the majority Albanian province was the only "viable option" to keep the region stable.
"The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state. We congratulate the people of Kosovo on this historic occasion," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement.
Serbia recalled its ambassador from Washington in protest.
Washington's action, which was expected, followed recognition of Kosovo by Europe's largest states -- France, Britain, Italy and Germany, as well as some Muslim states like Afghanistan. More countries are expected to follow suit, but Spain said it would not recognize Kosovo, and Russia strongly opposes the region's independence.
Washington, along with most European Union countries, says Serbia relinquished the moral right to rule the people of Kosovo because of the brutality it used against them under the late President Slobodan Milosevic.
"In light of the conflicts of the 1990s, independence is the only viable option to promote stability in the region," Rice said.
Kosovo has been under United Nations supervision since 1999, when NATO bombing forced a withdrawal of Serb forces that had been attacking Albanians there. There are some 17,000 NATO-led troops in Kosovo.
But Rice invited Belgrade to work together with the United States on shared goals, including the protection of the Serbian community in Kosovo. The region is steeped in Serb myth but home to 2 million Albanians, a 90 percent majority.
Rice also said the situation in Kosovo "cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today".
WARNING TO RUSSIA
This was seen as a warning to Russia, whose officials have linked Kosovo's status to separatist regions in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Moscow has said recognition of Kosovo creates a legal precedent that would be followed by others.
Earlier, U.S. President George W. Bush, in his first comments on Kosovo's declaration, noted that the United States had advocated independence for Kosovo.
"The Kosovars are now independent. It's something I've advocated along with my government," Bush said in an interview aired on NBC television from Arusha, Tanzania. He was expected to speak again on the subject from Africa at 0415 GMT Tuesday.
Washington will support Kosovo economically as well as politically, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. There would be a donors conference in Europe soon, he said, and Washington would give $335 million in aid to Kosovo this year.
"We are encouraging other countries to do as much," Burns said in a conference call with reporters. "We would like to see the involvement of the World Bank ... We would like to see debt relief. We would like to see as much regional trade and investment as is possible in that region."
Washington believes Kosovo will be a stable state, Burns said, adding that it had been a "relatively quiet 24 hours" since the declaration, and he hoped calm would be sustained.
Burns said he did not expect a downgrading of U.S. ties with Serbia over the issue, or a crisis with Russia. He said Rice had spoken with Serbian President Boris Tadic on Sunday, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday.
On Capitol Hill, members of both parties expressed support for Kosovo's independence and U.S. recognition and expressed concern about Serbia.
"The U.S. and our allies must support the integration of Kosovo into international and Euro-Atlantic institutions. We must also be prepared to work closely with Serbia and assist with their goals of joining the European Union and engaging European institutions," said Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar, the ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
"I also recognize that today is painful for many in Serbia," said Rep. Howard Berman, the acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and a California Democrat. "My strong wish is that the Serbian people will remain focused on achieving a prosperous future in the Euro-Atlantic community."
(editing by Mohammad Zargham)
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