WASHINGTON, May 17 (Reuters) - The United States said on Tuesday it wants the international community to move more quickly to resolve the status of the Serbian province of Kosovo, left undecided after the Balkan wars in the 1990s.
The No. 3 official at the State Department, Nicholas Burns, will make two addresses in Washington this week about Kosovo to turn the spotlight on an issue that critics say has received little U.S. attention over the last few years.
"We think we're now entering a new stage in our policy toward the Balkans, one that will accelerate the region's integration into Euro-Atlantic institutions," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher told reporters in explaining Burns' planned remarks in Congress and at a think-tank.
Kosovo's 90-percent ethnic Albanian majority wants independence, but Belgrade insists the landlocked province of 2 million people should remain a part of Serbia. The United Nations has governed Kosovo since 1999, after an 11-week NATO bombing campaign to halt Serb repression of its Albanian population.
The United States is working to help Kosovo satisfy a list of conditions that the United Nations wants it to meet before the international community can take up the question of its ultimate status, Boucher said.
But he suggested Washington was impatient for the United Nations to conclude that Kosovo has met the standards on democracy and governance issues during a review the world body must make over the next few months.
"We would hope that the standards of democracy and multiethnicity for Kosovo will be changed as soon as possible. And if that is achieved, then the outcome of the (U.N. benchmarks) review would be positive," Boucher said.
Ethnic Albanians rioted in Kosovo last year, torching Serb homes and religious sites, killing 19 and injuring nearly a thousand civilians.
The decision to hold "final status" talks -- on independence or not -- will not be made for several months. But a state department official said: "We all believe it is headed in that direction, we all believe we are coming to a time when we should deal with the status issues."
The Contact Group of major powers involved in the U.N. mission has recommended that Secretary General Kofi Annan appoint Kai Eide, Norway's ambassador to NATO, to decide whether Kosovo is ready for final status talks, a State Department official said.
Eide has been reviewing how to improve the U.N. mission in the province.