By David R. Sands
Kosovo's independence from Serbia, which looked like a diplomatic done deal just a few weeks ago, is under increasing fire from critics in the United States and Europe as the expected declaration of independence draws near.
The Bush administration and the European Union yesterday both warmly welcomed the election of Serbian moderate Boris Tadic over an ultranationalist rival in Sunday's presidential runoff vote.
But neither Washington nor Brussels showed any signs of backing away from their staunch support of Kosovo's imminent separation from Belgrade.
"Our policy is well-known and unchanged," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said yesterday.
In Brussels, EU officials gave preliminary approval for a 2,000-member transition mission, including police officers, to deploy to Kosovo to help keep order after the expected independence declaration by the province's ethnic Albanian majority.
Still officially part of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by a U.N. military and civilian mission since the 1999 war that ousted the forces of Yugoslav strongman Slobodan Milosevic. NATO has about 17,000 peacekeeping troops in the province.
U.S. plans to endorse Kosovo's independence declaration hit an unexpected obstacle when a trio of foreign policy heavyweights former U.S. U.N. Ambassador John R. Bolton, former Assistant Secretary of Defense Peter Rodman and former Secretary of State Lawrence S. Eagleburger attacked the policy in an op-ed piece in The Washington Times last week.
Citing Russia's staunch opposition and concern that other ethnic separatist movements would cite Kosovo as a precedent, the three wrote, "An imposed settlement of the Kosovo question and seeking to partition Serbia's sovereign territory without its consent is not in the interest of the United States."
Mr. Rodman said yesterday that "a lot of people [in the Bush administration] had been silently muttering about this issue for a good while."
"The policy on Kosovo had been sailing merrily along for a good while, with the State Department just assuring everybody that this was doable," he said. "But I know a lot of people were nervous about it, in Washington and among some of our European allies."
Several EU states worried about their own separatist minorities notably Spain, Romania and Cyprus have expressed reservations about recognizing Kosovo's independence over Belgrade's fierce objections.
"We will not recognize Kosovo's declaration of independence, no matter whether it is unilateral or coordinated," Romanian President Traian Basescu said last week.
Alan Kuperman, who teaches at the University of Texas, said many in the Balkans fear that the independence decision will provoke more bloodshed if the Serbian minority inside Kosovo in turn rebels against the new Albanian-dominated government in Pristina.
But Jim O'Brien, special presidential envoy to the Balkans in the Clinton administration, said the objections to Kosovo's independence "are looking through the wrong end of the telescope."
"Our interest here is in a Europe whole and free, and it's clear the current arrangements simply don't work," he said. "We want stable and strong entities in the Balkans, countries that can move toward NATO and the EU. There's no proposal Serbia can offer that would achieve that while holding on to Kosovo."
Mr. O'Brien also predicted that virtually all of the European Union's 27 members will accept Kosovo's independence in time.
Mr. Tadic's election also complicates the Kosovo endgame.
Like every other top Serbian politician, he opposed independence, but took a far more conciliatory line toward the European Union and the West than did his rival, nationalist Tomislav Nikolic.
Political watchers say his new government faces a severe early test if the leading Western powers quickly endorse Kosovo's decision to break away.