DAR ES SALAAM (Reuters) - President George W. Bush recognized on Tuesday the independence of Kosovo from Serbia and said it would bring peace to the Balkans.
Bush said in Dar es Salaam that the United States would soon establish full diplomatic relations with the new state, home to 2 million ethnic Albanians, that seceded from Serbia on Sunday.
“We will work with the leaders of Kosovo to carry out a smooth and peaceful transition to independence,” Bush said to reporters shortly before leaving Tanzania for Rwanda, the third leg of his five-country African tour.
Serbia has recalled its ambassador from Washington to protest against American recognition of Kosovo, first announced by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Monday. Russia also strongly opposes independence.
The Russian ambassador to the United Nations, Vitaly Churkin, called Kosovo’s declaration “a blatant breach of the norms and principles of international law.”
But Bush said the United States had been in close touch with Moscow and that U.S. recognition of Kosovo should have been expected.
“We have been in close consultation with the Russians all along. This wasn’t a surprise to Russia,” Bush said.
Washington’s action followed recognition of Kosovo by Europe’s largest states — France, Britain, Italy and Germany — and some Muslim states, such as Afghanistan. More countries are expected to follow suit, although Spain, facing its own separatist struggles, has said it will not recognize Kosovo.
The United States and most European Union countries say Serbia relinquished the moral right to rule the people of Kosovo because of brutality under late President Slobodan Milosevic.
Independence for Kosovo is an opportunity to move beyond past conflicts and towards stability and peace, Bush said.
“History will prove this to be a correct move, to bring peace to the Balkans,” he said.
“The United States supports this move because we believe it will bring peace. And now it’s up to all of us to work together to help the Kosovars realize that peace,” Bush said.
Kosovo has been under United Nations supervision since 1999, when NATO bombing forced a withdrawal of Serb forces that had been attacking the province’s ethnic Albanian majority. There are some 17,000 NATO-led troops in Kosovo.
Rice urged Belgrade to work with the United States to ensure the protection of Kosovo Serbs who make up about 10 percent of the territory’s population.
Bush also urged the protection of the Serbian minority, saying he welcomed the new government’s commitment “to the highest standards of democracy, including freedom and tolerance and justice for citizens of all ethnic backgrounds”.
Washington has said it will support Kosovo economically as well as politically. A donors conference will be held soon in Europe and the United States will give $335 million in aid to Kosovo this year.
Writing by Barry Moody; Editing by Catherine Evans