Clinton Urges Dialogue Between Kosovo, Serbia

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks out of a store named in her honor in Pristina.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton walks out of a store named in her honor in the Kosovo capital, Pristina, on Wednesday. Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Closing out a three-nation tour of the restive, ethnically splintered Balkans on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton paid a visit to Kosovo, a newly independent state where her husband is a hero.

In 1999, when Bill Clinton was president, NATO launched airstrikes against Serbia to end an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo Albanians.

The U.S. has been a champion of Kosovo's independence ever since, but Hillary Clinton's visit was aimed at trying to get Serbia and Kosovo talking again.

Thousands of people, many waving U.S. flags, lined Clinton's motorcade route from Pristina's airport to the city center, which included a long stretch on Bill Clinton Boulevard. Some in the crowd waved "Thank You Clinton Family" posters.

Clinton stopped her car at a square where an 11-foot gold statue of her husband stands. Amid cheers, she got out and inspected the statue, smiling broadly and posing for photos while waving at a crowd of roughly 1,000 people.

"It's so great to be here," she said, wading into the throng to shake hands before she found a tribute of her own: a small women's clothing store called "Hillary," where she was given a jacket as a gift.

A New Chapter

From the statue, Clinton went immediately into meetings with the leaders of Kosovo, the world's newest nation at just two years old. The country's 2008 secession has been recognized by most of the countries of the European Union and ruled legal by the International Court of Justice in July.

Speaking alongside Prime Minister Hashim Thaci afterward, Clinton said the U.S. has been a proud partner of Kosovo's long-fought journey.

"We are impressed by all that you have achieved in the past few years," she said. "So my being here is a real vote of confidence, Mr. Prime Minister, in what you are doing and in the future that you are attempting to chart — a new future not only for Kosovo, but for the region."

Thaci was all smiles in the press conference and, through an interpreter, called for a new chapter in relations between Kosovo and Serbia.

"It's time to close the more than one-century-long conflict between Serbia and Kosovo," he said. "The time is [now] to cooperate and to look toward the future. Kosovo is ready for this."

In Belgrade on Tuesday, Serbian President Boris Tadic made clear that he wants to close the dark chapters of the conflicts in the Balkans, but recognizing Kosovo is not something Serbia is willing to do. Still, he did say he was ready to talk.

Clinton said the two sides should focus on practical matters.

"Some matters — like the status, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Kosovo — are not up for discussion," she said. "But the leaders of both countries must approach the dialogue in good faith and with respect for each other's concerns."

The Serb Minority

Seeking to allay fears of the Serb minority, who vehemently oppose Kosovo's independence from Serbia, Clinton then met mayors of five Kosovo Serb towns and told them that Kosovo's success was intertwined with the prosperity and viability of the country's Serbs. Washington, she pledged, would continue to support them.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton talks with Bishop Teodosije.

Clinton talks with Bishop Teodosije (right) during tour of the Gracanica Monastery in Gracanica, a Serb enclave in Kosovo. Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Armend Nimani/AFP/Getty Images

At a tour of a Serb orthodox holy site, the Gracanica Monastery, she learned not only about ancient history but also the latest concerns from local religious leader Bishop Teodosije, who said ethnic Serbs have left in large numbers and the government in Pristina is not encouraging them to return.

"We need our flock, obviously, in order for these sanctuaries to be alive again," he said.

Many people lined the streets in the Serb municipality, but unlike in downtown Pristina, the onlookers were not chanting Clinton's name. Several children tried to get her attention by holding up signs that said, "Our rights are only on paper" and "I want a lucky childhood."

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report

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