July 19, 2007 / 11:38 AM / 10 years ago

Rice presses for action on Kosovo independence

<p>Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrives for a meeting with Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, July 18, 2007. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts</p>

LISBON (Reuters) - Kosovo will get independence from Serbia “one way or another” despite Russia’s objections at the United Nations, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday.

The United States is increasingly frustrated with Moscow’s refusal to agree on a U.N. resolution that would lead to Kosovo’s independence from Russian ally Serbia, leading to suggestions it will explore taking action outside the 15-member Security Council.

Rice told reporters traveling with her to Lisbon for a meeting of the quartet of Middle East mediators that U.S. President George W. Bush had made it very clear that Kosovo should have its independence from Serbia.

“The United States is absolutely committed to that,” said Rice, who will see Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Lisbon at the meeting of the quartet, which comprises the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations.

Asked whether the United States was prepared to move on Kosovo’s path to independence outside the United Nations, Rice said: “We are committed to an independent Kosovo and we will get there one way or another.”

Moscow rejects any move that would lead to Kosovo’s independence and has said a draft European/U.S. text has “zero” chance of being adopted.

VETO RIGHT

The head of the Russian Duma, Boris Gryzlov, said in Montenegro that Russia would use its veto right against any U.N. resolution not backed by both Belgrade and Pristina.

“Adopting such a resolution will light the fuse on many spots around the world: Abkhazia, Nagorno-Karabakh, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova, Spain, Great Britain and some African states,” Gryzlov told reporters.

Serb Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic opposed any action outside the United Nations. “Imposing independence of Kosovo on Serbia outside the Security Council is a guarantee of destabilizing the Western Balkans,” he said while on a visit to Lisbon.

Rice discussed Kosovo with Portugal’s Foreign Minister Luis Amado who told reporters if there was no resolution in the Security Council, the European Union could start negotiations to have representatives on the ground in Kosovo. Portugal holds the rotating EU presidency.

European foreign policy chief Javier Solana said this week if Russia failed to accept the text soon, 120 days of shuttle diplomacy between Belgrade and Pristina would be conducted under the authority of the major power Contact Group, where Russia has a seat but not a veto.

Kosovo, where 90 percent of the 2 million people are ethnic Albanians, has been run by the United Nations since NATO intervened in 1999 to halt the killing and expulsion of Albanians by Serb forces.

Kosovo Albanian leaders are due to meet Rice in Washington on Monday. Opposition leader Veton Surroi said he expected it to clarify how the West intended to overcome the impasse.

If the U.N. failed to act, he said Kosovo’s parliament should declare independence by Christmas.

“When we go to Condoleezza Rice we should tell her what we want, and we should have a date (for independence),” he told a news conference in Pristina.

Additional reporting by Henrique Almeida and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina

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