US extends recognition to Kosovo

February 18, 2008 7:15:34 PM PST
President Bush extended formal recognition Monday to Kosovo as "an independent and sovereign state," rebuffing protests by Serbia and Russia.

Bush, who is touring several African nations, promised in a letter to the new nation's president, Fatmir Sejdiu, that "the United states will be your partner and your friend."

"In your request to establish diplomatic relations with the United States, you expressed Kosovo's desire to attain the highest standards of democracy and freedom," Bush wrote. "I fully welcome this sentiment. In particular, I support your embrace of multi-ethnicity as a principle of good governance and your commitment to developing accountable institutions in which all citizens are equal under the law."

Serbia recalled its ambassador from Washington over the U.S. decision, and it has threatened to recall its envoys from all countries that establish diplomatic ties with Kosovo, though it said it would not sever relations.

"We feel that this is a travesty of international law. We feel that the negotiations should go on," Ambassador Ivan Vujacic said at a news conference Monday evening at the Serbian Embassy, adding that he would leave the United States within 48 hours. "We feel that the imposed solution concerning Kosovo is not the right solution and will not add to stability."

Russia and Serbia maintained Monday, at a U.N. Security Council emergency session, that an independent Kosovo violates the council's orders. It was a last-ditch attempt to stem the tide of diplomatic recognition for Europe's newest state.

Bush said the U.S.-Kosovo friendship was "cemented during Kosovo's darkest hours of tragedy," and grew stronger in the nine years since war ended and a democratic society was established.

"As an independent state, Kosovo now assumes responsibility for its destiny," Bush wrote.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice welcomed "the commitments Kosovo made in its declaration of independence" to implement a United Nations-backed plan, "to embrace multi-ethnicity as a fundamental principle of good governance, and to welcome a period of international supervision."

"In light of the conflicts of the 1990s independence is the only viable option to promote stability in the region. The United States supports the Ahtisaari Plan and will work with its international partners to help implement it," Rice said in a statement.

Rice cuationed that "the unusual combination of factors" found in the Kosovo situation, - Yugoslavia's breakup, the history of ethnic cleansing and crimes against civilians in Kosovo, and the extended period of U.N. administration - "make Kosovo a special case" and that it "cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today."

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, at a news conference, said, "The Russians aren't going to be surprised by our position."

"I do not expect any kind of crisis with the Russians over this," he said.

Burns said the nearly 17,000 NATO troops in Kosovo, including 1,600 U.S. forces, would remain in the country.

He also said that a donors conference would be held soon, and announced the United States was committing $334 million in U.S. assistance to Kosovo this year in addition to the $77 million provided in 2007.

In her statement, Rice noted that nine years ago NATO intervened to end attacks on the Kosovar Albanian population, leading to a U.N. Security Council suspension of Belgrade's governance. Kosovo was put under interim U.N. administration.

"Since that time Kosovo has built its own democratic institutions separate from Belgrade's control," said Rice. "Last year, U.N. Special Envoy Martti Ahtisaari developed a plan to build a democratic and multi-ethnic Kosovo and recommended Kosovo be independent, subject to a period of international supervision."

Rep. Howard Berman, acting chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said he supported the diplomatic recognition but added, "Now the work begins. The challenges ahead include tackling high unemployment and bolstering the country's weak economy, strengthening political institutions and the rule of law, and preserving security throughout the region."

"Kosovar leaders must be tireless in their efforts to ensure that the country remains safe and hospitable for all citizens, including the Serbian minority population," added Berman.

Kosovo had formally remained a part of Serbia even though it has been administered by the U.N. and NATO since 1999, when NATO airstrikes ended former Yugoslav leader Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on ethnic Albanian separatists, which killed 10,000 people.

In April 2007, Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence. But talks that followed failed to yield an agreement between the ethnic Albanian leadership, which pushed for full statehood, and Serbia, which was willing to offer only autonomy.

Bush said Monday: "The Ahtisaari plan is our blueprint forward. We'll watch to see how the events unfold today. The Kosovars are now independent."

Associated Press Writers Jennifer Loven, William J. Kole and Nebi Qena in Pristina, Dusan Stojanovic in Kosovska Mitrovica and Jovana Gec in Belgrade contributed to this report.