- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on Wednesday wrapped up a two-day visit to the Balkans in Kosovo, where she reaffirmed U.S. support for the one-time Serbian province’s independence and territorial integrity.

“From the start, the United States supported Kosovo’s right to exist as a sovereign, independent state within its existing borders,” Mrs. Clinton said in a joint press conference with Kosovar Prime Minister Hashim Thaci.

“We welcomed the International Court of Justice’s recent advisory opinion affirming Kosovo’s legal right to declare independence. And now we will continue to support Kosovo as it does the hard work of building a stable, prosperous and democratic country that is at peace with its neighbors and increasingly integrated into the Euro-Atlantic community.”

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled in July that Kosovo’s 2008 unilateral declaration of independence did not violate international law, dealing a body blow to Serbia’s hopes of bringing the breakaway province back into its orbit. Kosovo is the seventh nation to emerge from the rubble of the former Yugoslavia.

Mrs. Clinton’s Kosovo visit came a day after meetings in Belgrade with Serbian leaders.

Serbian President Boris Tadic declared again Tuesday that his country would never recognize an independent Kosovo, though Mr. Thaci has claimed on multiple occasions that senior officials in Belgrade have told him privately that they would do so.

Mrs. Clinton announced Wednesday that she plans to help Kosovo on the recognition front, saying she has “a list of additional countries that the United States will be reaching out to.”

“We think it’s important to continue to increase the numbers of countries that recognize, particularly after the ICJ opinion, which, we believe, settled the matter of independence once and for all,” she said.

Sixty-nine U.N. member states recognized Kosovo before the ICJ’s favorable “advisory opinion,” which officials in Pristina had hoped would open up the floodgates of international acceptance.

But since the ruling, only Honduras has recognized Kosovo, with no change from prominent holdouts like Russia, China and Spain — countries whose own separatist movements make them fear Kosovo’s precedent.

Kosovo’s population of 1.8 million is roughly 90 percent ethnic Albanian, with ethnic Serbs — concentrated in northern areas — comprising most of the balance.

Serbia and Kosovo are preparing to enter talks on unresolved issues, though Kosovo repeatedly has said that neither its independence nor its territory — including Serb-majority areas in the north — are on the table.

In an interview, Kosovar Ambassador to the United States Avni Spahiu said his country appreciates the steadfast support of the U.S. and welcomes its participation in the negotiations as a third party, along with the European Union, saying it provides a “guarantee the talks will be serious and sincere.”

“If any agreement is reached on these practical issues, we want to have someone as a guarantor,” he added.

Meanwhile in Kosovo’s capital of Pristina, Mrs. Clinton visited a statue of her husband, who in 1999 led the 78-day NATO bombing campaign that halted then-Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s campaign of ethnic cleansing and ushered in a nearly nine-year period of U.N. administration over the territory.

“We need to persuade and keep the pressure on the Serbs to recognize the inevitable,” retired Army Gen. Wesley Clark, the NATO commander in that operation, said in an interview. “Their treatment of Kosovo as a province of Serbia was unconscionable. They forced this separation, and it’s for the best for both groups.”

“I think It’s very important for the United States to follow through and show long-term consistency of purpose and resolve,” he added. “And that’s what Hillary’s visit to the region has shown.”

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