- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 8, 2005

The United States, the European Union and Russia are united about the need to end the uneasy stalemate over Kosovo’s political future with Serbia, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told a Senate hearing yesterday.

“The parties are not receiving a mixed message,” Mr. Burns said as negotiators prepare for a critical round of “final status” talks more than six years after NATO went to war to protect Kosovo’s ethnic Albanian majority from the government of then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic.

The Albanian majority, estimated at 90 percent of the province’s 2 million people, are seeking full independence from Serbia. Belgrade, with about 200,000 ethnic Serbs and numerous Serbian cultural and religious sites in Kosovo, favors giving Kosovo greater autonomy within Serbia.

Mr. Burns said members of the Kosovo “Contact Group” — the United States, Russia, Germany, Italy, Britain and France — have not taken a position on either option, but he added, “No country is saying that independence is a non-starter.”

He told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the uncertainty over Kosovo’s future made it a “political pressure cooker” in a region rife with ethnic tensions. Six years after the war, about 1,700 U.S. troops remain in Kosovo as part of a NATO peacekeeping force.

Mr. Burns said that Kosovo’s Albanian political leaders must agree on a common agenda before U.N.-sponsored talks with Serbia get under way in the next few weeks.

He said he found many internal divisions among the ethnic Albanian leaders on a recent trip to Pristina. He also criticized the Serbian government for discouraging Kosovo’s Serb minority from participating in Kosovo’s interim government and in the final status talks.

The Bush administration will name a special envoy to the U.N. talks very soon, Mr. Burns said.

Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., Delaware Democrat, called the Kosovo stalemate “neither sustainable nor desirable,” and said the United States and its allies must pressure both sides to compromise.

“Trouble in the Balkans is almost always the product of false expectations,” he said.

Richard Holbrooke, the Clinton administration’s point man on the Balkans, told the Senate panel he had concluded that independence for Kosovo was inevitable, but it must be accompanied by “iron-clad” security guarantees for the province’s minority Serbs and their property.

He said the failure to address the problem since 1999 had heightened the danger of new violence.

“War could break out there at any time, and it would be a bloody, bloody event,” he said.

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