- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 3, 2009

APPEAL TO SERBIA

The U.S. ambassador to Serbia is urging the government in Belgrade to drop its international court case against Kosovo and establish “friendly” relations with its former province, which declared independence last year.

The United States was among the first countries to recognize Kosovo in February 2008.

“The problem of Kosovo is finished, as the status was resolved,” Ambassador Cameron Munter told the Serbian newspaper, Politika, over the weekend. “In my opinion, reopening the issue of Kosovo is not realistic.”

Mr. Munter urged Serbian leaders to establish diplomatic relations with Kosovo.

“Leaderships of the Republic of Serbia and the Republic of Kosovo should talk like friendly neighbors and resolve problems in the best possible fashion, and we will welcome that,” he said.

He added that, aside from Kosovo, the United States and Serbia have good diplomatic ties.

“Kosovo is only one element of our multidimensional relations, which are good,” Mr. Munter said. “They include our problem of assistance, developing military dialogue and very clear cooperation on reaching the long-term security of the entire Balkan region.”

Serbia has taken its dispute with Kosovo to the International Court of Justice to try to get an agreement to reopen negotiations on the final status of its former province. However, the court is not expected to rule on the Serbian complaint until sometime next year at the earliest.

Kosovo declared independence Feb. 17 after negotiations with Serbia broke down. Serbian leaders offered autonomy to the region, populated mostly by ethnic Albanians, but insisted that it remain part of Serbia.

The dispute is the last lingering fallout from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia, once ruled by dictators who were eventually accused of war crimes. Under the Clinton administration, NATO launched air strikes against Serbia when Serbian forces were accused of ethnic cleansing in Kosovo.

In his interview, Mr. Munter also urged Serbia to use its military strength to help provide security in the Balkans.

“We are aware that Serbia has declared military neutrality, but we hope that the political and military leaders of the country would choose cooperation with NATO and European states sharing certain values,” he said.

SYRIA CRIES FOUL

The Syrian ambassador to the United States insisted that his country had nothing to do with the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and blamed the “pro-Israel lobby” for linking his country to the 2005 assassination.

In a newspaper interview in California last week, Ambassador Imad Moustapha dismissed U.N. investigations that implicate Syria as incomplete.

“Here in the U.S. is a powerful pro-Israel lobby,” he told the Contra Costa Times before speaking at the Claremont McKenna College.

Referring to news reports that linked Syria to the assassination, Mr. Moustapha added, “These are observations among anti-Syrian circles. They are baseless. … We, in Syria, believe it serves our national interest to find the truth of that terrible crime.”

He insisted that Syria is cooperating with a probe by the U.N. Independent Investigation Commission, which linked Syria to the assassination in preliminary reports.

“In short the reports, in both form and content, accused Syria before the end of the investigation,” he said.

The United States has accused Syria of supporting terrorism, and the Bush administration’s former U.N. ambassador, John R. Bolton, included Syria on a list he described as “beyond the axis of evil.” Former President George W. Bush in 2002 named Iran, Iraq and North Korea as the original three original members of the axis, while Mr. Bolton expanded the list to include Syria, Cuba and Libya.

• Call Embassy Row at 202/636-3297, fax 202/832-7278 or e-mail James Morrison.

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