U.S. Extends Hand to Serbia Following Kosovo Independence

Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence sets a dangerous precedent for other separatist groups around the world such as Palestinians, Basques and Northern Cypriots to bypass negotiations and set up their own states, a Kremlin spokesman said Wednesday.

"We cannot agree that Kosovo is a distinct case," Dmitry Peskov said as the United States assured Serbia it wants to help integrate the eastern European country into Western institutions and repair relations roiled by recognition of Kosovo's independence.

"We think that Serbia, if it can overcome the conflicts of the '90s, has a very bright future," Rosemary DiCarlo, the U.S. deputy assistant secretary for European affairs, told The Associated Press Wednesday. "But overcoming the '90s, overcoming the recent past, means apprehension of war criminals, it means recognition that (former Serb leader Slobodan) Milosevic lost Kosovo."

Kosovo has a predominantly Muslim population while Kosovo is considered by many Serbs to be a foundation of their country and its culture. The Bush administration has consistently supported independence for Kosovo.

The move is in conflict with regional stability and Russia will continue to disagree "out of our concern for the future of international relations," Peskov said at the Nixon Center, a Washington-based think tank.

At the same time, he said Russia has no immediate plans to try to undo Kosovo's independence in the United Nations.

"It is too complicated to act immediately," the Kremlin official said.

As evidence that other groups might take their cues from Kosovo, Peskov referred to a senior Palestinian official suggesting the Palestinians follow Kosovo's example and unilaterally declare statehood if peace talks with Israel fail.

"It is damaging to the Mideast peace process," the Kremlin spokesman said, referring to remarks by Yasser Abdel Rabbo, a Palestinian negotiator.

"Kosovo is not better than Palestine," Rabbo said. If the whole world has embraced Kosovo's independence "why shouldn't this happen with Palestine as well?"

The chief Palestinian negotiator, Ahmed Qureia, quashed the idea and said it had never been discussed by the Palestinian leadership.

Peskov, meanwhile, said "we hear cheers" from Northern Cyprus, which is recognized only by Turkey, and from the Basques, an independence-minded ethnic group in Spain.

As part of the effort to help Serbia overcome past troubles, the U.S. and some European countries have demanded that Serbia step up cooperation with the U.N. war crimes tribunal in The Hague. The tribunal is still searching for the leaders of the Serb faction during Bosnia's civil war in the early 1990s, Ratko Mladic and Radovan Karadzic.

But the European Union has also been trying to speed up membership talks with Serbia as a way to mitigate mounting anti-Western feeling in Serbia.

The U.S. and major European countries quickly backed Kosovo after its declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday.

In response, Serbia has recalled its ambassador to Washington and said it would recall envoys from other countries that have recognized Kosovo.

On Wednesday, Serbian Foreign Minister Vuk Jeremic said his country would continue to negotiate with the EU since individual member states — not the bloc as a whole — are recognizing Kosovo. But he warned that the province's secession would have a serious impact on Serbia's EU aspirations.

DiCarlo, who has played a key role in U.S. policy on Kosovo, said a critical mass of countries will recognize Kosovo's independence, despite the opposition of Russia and some other countries. She said that many of the countries backing Kosovo's independence have more at stake than Russia.