Balkan Conundrum Europe, Washington Divided over Kosovo's Future

As Kosovar leaders mull declaring unilateral independence for the breakaway Serbian province, German and EU leaders appear headed for conflict with Washington. Bush says he would recognize Kosovo if it declares self-determination, but EU leaders fear an outbreak of violence.

German soldiers in Kosovo. Kosovar leaders are considering declaring unilateral independence.

German soldiers in Kosovo. Kosovar leaders are considering declaring unilateral independence.

Germany and other European countries are steering towards a confrontation course with Washington out of fears of an escalation in the conflict in the Serbian province of Kosovo.

The Europeans are concerned, in light of stalled negotiations at the United Nations Security Council, that the government of Kosovo could unilaterally declare independence from Serbia. President George W. Bush has already said that the United States would give diplomatic recognition to an independent Kosovo.

This development, however, has ruffled the feathers of European Union member states. "The vast majority of Europeans will not go along with a unilateral recognition of Kosovo," Luxembourg's foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, warned recently.

During a meeting on Monday in Paris last week, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and his Italian colleague Massimo D'Alema went even further, explaining to US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that civilian and military missions in Kosovo would have to be suspended if the Americans and Kosovars were to push ahead towards independence without a UN deal.

Only the UN Security Council can create the foundations under international law for an internationally recognized independent Kosovo, they argued. In order to reach an agreement in the Security Council, however, the Americans must cut a deal with veto-wielding Russia. Indeed, the issue was expected to be part of talks between Bush and Russian President Vladimir Putin to be held on Monday at the Bush family's complex at Kennebunkport, Maine.

German military officials worry that violence could erupt in Kosovo if diplomatic efforts fail to succeed. But politicians in both Belgrade and Pristina appear to be growing more realistic about the region's future. Serbia knows that it will be unable to prevent the province's independence, but it is still hoping that Kosovo can be divided so that the interests of ethnic Serbs still living there are observed.

It's a view that was given further credence last week by former Kosovo Prime Minister Bajram Rexhepi. He claimed that in the event of a Russian veto in the Security Council, Kosovo would move to declare its independence in parliament. He added, however, that the Serb-dominated North Kosovo region would be given a wide degree of autonomy.



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