Thursday, May 21, 2009

No going back for Kosovo, says US

Joe Biden is welcomed at Pristina's airport (21 May 2009)
Kosovans have been keen to show their appreciation of the US

US Vice-President Joe Biden has told Kosovo's parliament its independence is "absolutely irreversible" and the only viable option for regional stability.

"The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration," Mr Biden said in a speech that received several standing ovations from MPs.

Earlier, he received an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of ethnic Albanians in the capital, Pristina.

However, the Serb minority said it was planning to hold anti-US protests.

The US played a leading role in the Nato bombing campaign which expelled Serbian forces from Kosovo a decade ago.


On the final stage of his three-day tour of the Balkans, Mr Biden became the most senior US official to visit Kosovo since it declared independence in February 2008.

Your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible
US Vice-President Joe Biden

The US and more than 50 other countries have recognised its independence, but more than 100 have not, including Serbia and Russia.

"Kosovo's independence was and remains today in my view, in the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region," he told a special sitting of the parliament in Pristina.

"And your independence - as I've said in the countries I have visited - your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible," he added to applause from the ethnic Albanian-dominated assembly.

Earlier, after holding talks with President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other leaders, Mr Biden said he had been awarded the Golden Medal of Freedom, Kosovo's highest honour.

"I don't deserve it, but I received it on behalf of the United States," said the vice-president, who many Kosovans credit with helping them gain independence while he was a senator.

Earlier, thousands of schoolchildren waved US flags along the route his motorcade took from Pristina airport, while posters lined the route declaring "Welcome, and thank you".


His reception contrasted markedly with that in his previous stop, Serbia, where police lined the streets amid nationalist anger.

MPs from the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party held up banners in parliament saying: "Biden, you Nazi scum, go home."

Woman walks past a mural saying "Kosovo is Serbia" in Belgrade (21 May 2009)
Mr Biden said he did not expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo's independence

Serbian President Boris Tadic told Mr Biden on Tuesday that his country would never give up its claim to Kosovo.

But despite that outstanding issue, and the antipathy of many Serbs to the US because of the Nato bombing campaign in 1999, Mr Biden and the pro-Western Mr Tadic exchanged warm words.

Mr Biden said: "The United States does not, I emphasise, does not expect Serbia to recognise the independence of Kosovo."

"It is not a precondition for our relationship or our support for Serbia becoming part of the European Union," he said.

Mr Tadic said Serbia and the US could move their relationship forward "on the basis of dialogue rooted in mutual respect".

The rare visit by a top US official marks a new effort by President Barack Obama to re-engage with the Balkans, BBC Eastern Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says.

As well as Serbia and Kosovo, he has also visited Bosnia-Hercegovina. BBC Article

Hero's welcome for Biden in Kosovo

" Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Kosovo on Thursday, receiving a hero's welcome as the most senior US official to visit the Balkan country since Washington backed its split from Serbia last year, AFP reported.

Biden's US Air Force Two plane landed at a NATO-controlled airstrip of Pristina airport, where Foreign Minister Skender Hyseni and students bearing US flags were ready to greet him.
He then travelled to NATO headquarters in a helicopter and arrived at parliament where huge crowds greeted him with banners, reading: "Welcome Mr Biden", "Kosovo loves the USA" and "Thank you USA" ". FOCUS News Agency

Monday, May 18, 2009

Biden seeks new U.S. start in Balkans

By Adam Tanner
BELGRADE (Reuters) - Vice President Joe Biden makes the highest-level U.S. visit to Serbia in a quarter century this week seeking a new diplomatic start in the Balkans, a region where Washington twice intervened militarily in the 1990s.
In visiting two of Serbia's former adversaries, Bosnia and Kosovo on the same trip, the former U.S. senator with much experience in foreign affairs faces a tricky balancing act where sensitivities about the past wars and divisions remain strong.
"The main point really is that, in a sense, the United States is back; the focus that we had in the 1990s on the region is back," a senior U.S. official told reporters.
"We haven't been as focused on the Balkans in recent years, maybe some of the momentum, for example, in Bosnia, has been lost or, in some cases, reversed."
In 1991 just before the start of the wars that ended Yugoslavia, then Secretary of State James Baker said: "We don't have a dog in this fight." But by 1995 Washington and NATO were bombing Bosnian Serbs and then brokering a peace deal to end a war that killed 100,000 people.
In 1999, the United States and NATO bombed Belgrade in an effort to force rump Yugoslavia to withdraw from Kosovo. A few major buildings in the Serbian capital Belgrade remain in rubble and resentment over the bombing endures.
In recent years, the United States has focused on Kosovo, which declared independence last year, after devoting much attention on warring and postwar Bosnia in the mid 1990s.
"We have had an approach in the last 20 years where we have tried to address what we see as the most critical problems," U.S. Ambassador to Serbia Cameron Munter said in an interview. "What that sometimes leads to is a focus so that those problems sometimes become the defining element of the Balkan policy."
Washington now seeks a broader view of interlocking Balkan issues, he said, a region hoping to join the European Union.
The vice president arrives on Tuesday in Bosnia, where he meets leaders from both halves of a country divided along ethnic lines. The Bosnian Serb half has acted more assertively since 2006 on boosting its autonomy and the Muslim-Croat half remains stuck in a political and economic morass.
"What the problems are here is a clear demonstration that appeasement does not work," said Raffi Gregorian, a U.S. diplomat who is the deputy peace envoy to Bosnia. "Messages of keep Bosnia quiet but don't do anything have not succeeded on behalf of the international community."
Highlighting the division is an announced protest during Biden's visit by Serb veterans to draw attention to what they call discrimination of non-Muslims in Bosnia. Diplomats and analysts say the ethnic standoff could endanger the entire region's stability and slow EU integration.
Bosnian Serbs are wary about Biden visit and a big U.S. role, but Bosnia's foreign minister welcomed him.
"It is a very clear sign of the willingness of this new administration to engage in Bosnia-Herzegovina, to finalize the project that was started during the Clinton Administration," Sven Alkalaj told Reuters.

Serbs in particularly are watching Biden skeptically because of his past criticism of Serb actions in Kosovo, its ex-province that remains a sore point in relations with the West. Biden, who visits Belgrade on Wednesday, is the highest-ranking U.S. official to Serbia since Vice President George Bush in 1983.
By contrast, Biden is likely to receive a warm welcome on Thursday in Kosovo, where he is celebrated as a long-time supporter of Kosovo independence during his years as a U.S. senator. Kosovo is strongly pro-American and the capital Pristina has a Bill Clinton Boulevard and will soon rename one of the city's street after George. W. Bush.
The vice president also had a family link to Kosovo. His son Joseph III, now Delaware's attorney general, served as a U.S. Justice Department adviser in Kosovo in 2001.
(Additional reporting by Daria Sito-Sucic in Sarajevo and Fatos Bytyci in Pristina; editing by Alison Williams)