By Judy Dempsey
BERLIN: A leading German legislator and foreign policy expert in Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative bloc warned the United States on Thursday against unilateral recognition of Kosovo, with the UN Security Council beginning the countdown toward determining the final status of the province.
The legislator, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, was responding to a U.S. plan to sponsor a Security Council resolution on the matter.
Guttenberg said that any U.S. rush toward recognition would lead to serious divisions in the trans-Atlantic position, which has maintained strong unity while seeking to close one of the last chapters of the Balkans wars of the 1990s.
Premature U.S. action could also harden Russia's position in the Security Council, where Moscow has said it opposes granting Kosovo supervised independence, he said.
"The Kosovo process is at a particularly sensitive phase right now," Guttenberg said in an interview with the International Herald Tribune.
"Any hasty initiative could harm the negotiations considerably. It is important to avoid any divisions between the U.S. and Europe and that includes pronouncements that aim toward a unilateral recognition of Kosovo. Under all circumstances, we must avoid a race to recognition."
Nicholas Burns, U.S. under secretary of state for political affairs, told the House Committee on Foreign Affairs on Tuesday that the United States would sponsor a new Security Council resolution aimed at ending the international protectorate status that Kosovo has been under since 1999 and at removing political and legal impediments to independence.
"We expect that Kosovo's leaders will subsequently declare their independence," Burns said. "The U.S. and other countries will then recognize the new state. Our goal is to bring the Kosovo status process to a timely and successful conclusion by the end of this spring."
Speaking of Russia's resistance to the UN plan for Kosovo, drawn up by the special UN envoy, Martti Ahtisaari, Burns said, "Any attempt to block Kosovo's independence will not succeed, as Kosovo's independence is now, we believe, inevitable."
The Ahtisaari plan envisages an interim period of international supervision and would grant Kosovo its own army, flag, anthem and constitution before achieving full statehood.
Sergey Lavrov, Russia's foreign minister, who was meeting Serbian leaders in Belgrade on Thursday, said Moscow wanted more time for negotiations and would not support any solution that was not acceptable to both Serbia and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo. "Any unilateral imposing of the solution is absolutely unacceptable," Lavrov said. The Serbian leadership staunchly opposes independence for Kosovo, its southern province, while the ethnic Albanian majority in Kosovo has overwhelmingly endorsed the Ahtisaari's proposals.
Burns dismissed Russia's calls for more talks. Further delays, he said, "would worsen the situation. The risk of violence is far greater if we delay Kosovo's independence than if we decide it soon."
Germany's concern is that unilateral recognition by Washington would cause immense problems for the European Union which will take over responsibility for the province once final status is agreed upon. Besides undermining trans-Atlantic unity, it could break the unity within the EU. Berlin has not forgotten that the EU became bitterly divided during the early 1990s when Germany unilaterally recognized Croatia, a move that some analysts said precipitated the bloody breakup of the former Yugoslavia and plunged the region into warfare.
"There has to be a constant reminder that the EU has taken on the main responsibility for the future of Kosovo," Guttenberg said. "Therefore, Washington is well advised to only act in close consultations with the Europeans, as far as the question of the future of the legal status of Kosovo is concerned, so that the Ahtisaari plan will succeed in the UN Security Council."
"The U.S. and EU must under all circumstances maintain the trans-Atlantic unity," he said.