They will try to get rest of Europe to follow, officials say
By Dan Bilefsky, International Herald Tribune January 11, 2008
LJUBLJANA, Slovenia - The United States and Germany have agreed to recognize Kosovo and get the rest of Europe to follow suit after the province declares independence following the Serbian elections next month, according to senior European Union diplomats close to negotiations over the future of Kosovo.
In a recent conversation about the future of Kosovo, EU officials said President Bush and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany had agreed it was imperative to secure the stability of the western Balkans by coordinating the recognition of Kosovo after the second round of Serbian elections planned for Feb. 3.
They said Washington was aggressively pressing the EU to ensure that the recognition of Kosovo was not delayed by even a week.
"The cake has been baked because the Americans have promised Kosovo independence," a senior EU official said. "And if Washington recognizes Kosovo and European nations do not follow, it will be a disaster."
Pristina's determination to declare independence from Serbia is opposed by Belgrade and Moscow. Several EU countries - including Spain, Slovakia, Romania, and Cyprus - are also reluctant to recognize an independent Kosovo, fearful that such a move would spur secessionist movements on their own territories. But EU diplomats said a majority of European nations - including Germany, France, Britain, and Italy - planned to recognize Kosovo, regardless of dissenters.
The German Foreign Ministry said yesterday that no decision had been reached on when the EU would recognize Kosovo. It ruled out any suggestion that Germany and the United States alone would recognize Kosovo. Merkel has been lobbying the other 26 EU member states so the bloc will have a united stance over this issue.
Slovenia, a nation of 2 million people that took over the EU presidency for six months on Jan. 1, is pressing EU members to make good on the bloc's pledge to send an 1,800-member police and civil force to Kosovo this month. EU officials said Slovenia was determined that the force be in place before Kosovo's independence declaration and that the declaration and its recognition by EU nations could be put off until after the force was dispatched.
Slovenia, the first former communist country to assume the EU's rotating presidency, is determined to bring stability to the western Balkans nearly 17 years after it helped unleash the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia by declaring independence itself in 1991.
Dimitrij Rupel, the Slovenian foreign minister, said this week that the EU's best hope of finding a way out of a potentially explosive situation in Kosovo was to push Serbia to soften its recalcitrance by offering Belgrade closer ties and the prospect of joining the bloc.
Rupel, who played a key role in shepherding Slovenia to independence and then EU membership, said he hoped Serbia and the EU would sign an agreement cementing political and economic ties by the end of this month.
"The financial situation of Serbia is terrible, and coming closer to the EU will help change that," he said.
Rupel noted that Serbia's per-capita gross domestic product of $3,000 had hardly improved since 1989, while Slovenia, which joined the EU in 2004, had seen its per-capita GDP jump from $5,000 in 1989 to $23,000 last year.
Kosovo legally remains part of Serbia, and two rounds of Serbian elections are due to be held, on Jan. 20 and Feb. 3. A declaration of independence in Kosovo before those dates would probably play into the hands of nationalist forces in Belgrade.
Slovenian officials are pressing Washington and Pristina to put off independence until after the elections.
The EU has insisted that it will not fully embrace Serbia until Belgrade hands over those indicted on war crimes charges, including former military commander Ratko Mladic.
But Rupel hinted that the EU could show more flexibility if Belgrade softened its intransigence over Kosovo.
He warned that comments by Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica of Serbia last week, that the EU would have to choose between its relations with Belgrade and with Pristina, were unhelpful.
"Serbia belongs to the EU and can't join the United States or the Russian Federation," Rupel said. "It is absurd to think otherwise, and we should do our utmost to push Serbia toward the EU."