By Guy Dinmore in Washington
Published: November 9 2005 02:00 | Last updated: November 9 2005 02:00
The US yesterday made the case for offering Serbia incentives to reach agreement in negotiations over the final status of Kosovo, while setting out the possibility of independence for the province if the ethnic Albanian majority accepted compromises to accommodate its Serbian minority.
Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state, told a Senate hearing the US was neither championing independence nor autonomy for Kosovo. But diplomats said his testimony was a clear signal the US looked favourably on independence, under certain conditions. In what diplomats also called a significant policy statement, Mr Burns made clear the US had no objection to independence for Montenegro if it chose to abandon its union with Serbia through a referendum, whose terms have yet to be agreed.
Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary-general, last week selected Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, as his special envoy to lead talks on the status of Kosovo. The UN has administered Kosovo since Nato occupied the province in 1999.
"They [Kosovo Albanians] want independence. They have to prove they are worthy of it," Mr Burns told the Senate foreign relations committee.
Mr Burns said he had recently told the Kosovo Albanian negotiating team that they could not attain their objective without compromise. "They have to assure the minority population there's a future for that minority population," he said. That included guarantees that Serbian churches and historic sites would be respected.
Asked what incentives could be offered to Serbia, Mr Burns said a successful outcome would help the prospects of eventual membership of Nato and the European Union. Serbia would not be able to contemplate joining Nato as long as it was involved in a territorial dispute, he said.
Mr Burns reiterated that as a first stage, to join Nato's partnership for peace programme, Serbia had to make sure that Ratko Mladic, the former Bosnian Serb military commander, had surrendered to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague.
Mr Burns said partition of Kosovo was not an option. He also advocated a continued Nato presence, with US troops, even after the settlement of status.