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U.S. faces criticism for its support of Kosovo

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo -- The United States and the European Union's largest countries recognized the independence of Kosovo on Monday, a major boost for the fledgling state. But it still faces intense opposition from Russia, Serbia and some ...

KOSOVSKA MITROVICA, Kosovo -- The United States and the European Union's largest countries recognized the independence of Kosovo on Monday, a major boost for the fledgling state. But it still faces intense opposition from Russia, Serbia and some European countries over its proclaimed status.

President Bush, traveling in Africa, hailed the new state's "special friendship" with the United States, promising to set up a U.S. embassy there and inviting Kosovo to establish a diplomatic mission in Washington.

"On behalf of the American people, I hereby recognize Kosovo as an independent and sovereign state," Bush said in a letter to President Fatmir Sejdiu. "I congratulate you and Kosovo's citizens for having taken this important step in your democratic and national development."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who first announced the U.S. decision, tried to placate the Serbs, and by extension their closest allies, the Russians. "We invite Serbia's leaders to work together with the United States and our partners to accomplish shared goals," she said in a statement.

Kosovo's independence from Serbia was declared Sunday by its parliament, which is dominated by ethnic Albanians. The decision has divided the European Union.

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What will happen next is unclear. Russia and Serbia have called on the United Nations to overturn the independence declaration, and Russia appears likely to try to block any attempt to wind down the U.N. mission here and turn it over to the EU.

American and some EU diplomats say they believe that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon can order the transition without referring the issue to the Security Council, where Russia holds veto power. But a period of intense diplomatic wrangling is likely.

Members of Kosovo's Serb minority insist they never will recognize the declaration of independence. And the vast majority of them appear determined not to cooperate with EU oversight, even though it is intended to guarantee their rights in Kosovo, whose population is 90 percent ethnic Albanian.

In a worrying sign for the new Kosovo government, and the future EU mission, Serb policemen have begun to leave the multiethnic Kosovo police force created by the United Nations and are pledging loyalty instead to authorities in Belgrade, the Serbian capital, according to political leaders.

Serbia withdrew its ambassador from Washington in protest after the U.S. recognized Kosovo.

Spain, which fears that Kosovo's independence could bolster separatist impulses among its own population, forcefully refused to recognize Kosovo statehood. Cyprus, Romania, Bulgaria and Slovakia are also expected to decline to recognize Kosovo's independence.

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