US ready for showdown with Russia on Kosovo independence
By Sylvia Lanteaume
For some time, the US has been pressing for Kosovo independence within the UN framework, but due to Russia’s strong opposition, it is now considering sidestepping the international body
THE United States is pressing for a quick UN vote on Kosovo, but is ready to take on Russia’s threat of a veto and move on to unilaterally recognise the Serbian province’s right to independence.
US President George W Bush on Sunday chose Tirana as a backdrop to make an urgent call for Kosovo’s independence, refusing an “endless dialogue” on the future of the UN-run province.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice “will be moving hard to see if we can’t reach an agreement” in the UN Security Council between US and Europeans which are for Kosovo’s independence, and Russia, which is against.
“And if not, we’re going to have to move,” said Bush. “Independence is the goal, and that’s what the people of Kosovo need to know.”
Though technically a Serbian province, Albanian-majority Kosovo has been UN-run since the end of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation assault in mid-1999.
Some 10,000 ethnic Albanians died and hundreds of thousands fled Kosovo during the 1998-1999 conflict between Serbian government troops and ethnic Albanian separatists.
For some time, the United States has been pressing for Kosovo independence within the UN framework, but due to Russia’s strong opposition, it is now considering sidestepping the international body and unilaterally recognising the province as independent, the US State Department said on Monday.
A department spokesman noted that UN approval was not needed for NATO’s 1999 military intervention to protect the Albanian population in Kosovo from the Serbian army.
The Security Council is currently debating a draft resolution sponsored by the United States, Belgium, Britain, France, Italy, Slovakia and Germany, calling for “full implementation” of UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari’s proposal for “internationally-supervised independence” of Kosovo.
On Monday, US State Department spokesman Tom Casey urged the council to move quickly: “There is a resolution that is tabled at the UN. I expect those discussions to move forward. I expect there will be a vote on it.”
Department spokesman Sean McCormack played down the prospect of a Russian veto. “Nobody wants it to get to that point. Nobody wants to see a veto.”
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov last month said a veto would be a last resort. “I hope a veto will not be necessary,” he said after a meeting of foreign ministers of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in Potsdam, Germany.
Some political analysts here hope Moscow would at least abstain from voting on Kosovo in the council, although they said it was unlikely given the rising US-Russia tensions over a planned US missile defence system in Eastern Europe.
“If there is a veto, the most likely outcome is a unilateral declaration of independence,” said Stephen Sestanovich, with the Council on Foreign Relations, who predicted problems within the European Union (EU).
“I would expect that Washington will recognise Kosovo and that at least a majority of EU countries will as well, but I don’t know that you would get the EU as a collective body to do so, and that starts looking awkward. That starts creating some problems,” the expert said.
Facing a Basque separatist movement on its own soil, Spain is concerned about the implications of Europe recognising Kosovo’s independence outside the UN framework.
The issue is up for discussion by the contact group for Kosovo - the United States, Britain, Germany, Italy and Russia - when it meets Tuesday in Paris. afp