President George W. Bush said Sunday the U.S. will work to prevent violent clashes following Kosovo's declaration of independence. His administration withheld immediate comment on the historic announcement as the province sought swift recognition by the United States.
"The United States will continue to work with our allies to do the very best we can to make sure there's no violence," Bush said, several hours before Kosovo's parliament approved a declaration of independence from Serbia.
That vote outraged Serbia and its ally Russia, which worries the independence move sets a dangerous precedent for separatist groups worldwide. Serbia's president said his country would never accept an independent Kosovo.
In advance of the declaration, the White House reaffirmed its support of a plan by U.N. envoy Martti Ahtisaari that recommended granting Kosovo internationally supervised independence.
"On Kosovo, our position is that its status must be resolved in order for the Balkans to be stable," Bush said during his trip to Africa.
"Secondly, we have strongly supported the Ahtisaari plan. Thirdly, we are heartened by the fact that the Kosovo government has clearly proclaimed its willingness and its desire to support Serbian rights in Kosovo. We also believe it's in Serbia's interests to be aligned with Europe, and the Serbian people can know that they have a friend in America."
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said shortly before the Kosovo parliament convened for the vote that the Bush administration was unlikely to comment on the development until at least Monday.
"We understand that, obviously, there are a lot of deep-rooted emotions that go with this," she said in Tanzania. "We are sensitive to this."
"What I can say is that we have been supportive of supervised independence ... and there is no change in that position."
Kosovo formally had stayed a part of Serbia even though the province was administered by the U.N. and NATO since the war ended in 1999. The province is still protected by 16,000 NATO-led peacekeepers, and the alliance has boosted its patrols in hopes of discouraging violence.
In April 2007, U.N. envoy Ahtisaari recommended that Kosovo be granted internationally supervised independence. But talks that followed failed to yield an agreement between the ethnic Albanian leadership, which pushed for full statehood, and Serbia, which was willing to offer only autonomy.
With Russia, a staunch Serbian ally, determined to block the bid for independence, Kosovo has looked to the U.S. and Europe for swift recognition of its status as the continent's newest nation. That recognition was likely to come Monday at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Brussels, Belgium.