ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.
MICHELE KELEMEN: Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was fairly forceful on the issues, saying one way or another, Kosovo will be independent. But today, she simply posed for pictures with the delegation and refused to speak in public. Her spokesman, Sean McCormack, said she calls for patience, urging Kosovo's leaders not to unilaterally declare independence.
SEAN MCCORMACK: It is in nobody's interest to try to short circuit the diplomatic process, because the last thing anybody wants to see is a renewed outbreak of some of the deep violence that we've seen in that part of the world before.
KELEMEN: A breakaway province of Serbia, Kosovo has been run by the United Nations since 1999 - that's when NATO forced out Serbian troops responsible for an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Albanian population. Before coming to Washington, one of the politicians from Kosovo, Veton Surroi, said he wanted to set a date for independence and get America's backing. The main reassurance he got, however, was that Kosovo's status will be resolved after 120 days.
VETON SURROI: We transmitted that we will be seriously engaging with international community in the next 120 days. And that within those 120 days, we will also engage in our own legislative agenda. The end is clear. It's independence.
KELEMEN: As for persuading Russia to go along with all of these, the State Department official, who asked not to be named, said he is not counting on Russia changing its mind, neither is Veton Surroi, the opposition politician from Kosovo.
SURROI: We're willing to talk to anybody we need to build trust. Russia has taken a very stern attitude, which has been not very helpful. You can't engage in a negotiating process and say I won't respect the outcome of it.
KELEMEN: Ambassador Vitaly Churkin repeated Russia's concerns that an independent Kosovo could set a dangerous precedent for other breakaway regions, including in the former Soviet Union.
VITALY CHURKIN: The principle of territorial integrity - this is one of the foundations of international law. All the resolutions, which have been passed by the Security Council and the entire body of law not to reward aggressive separatist inclinations. And this is something, if it were allowed to be condoned, that will have very strong bad international repercussions across the globe.
KELEMEN: Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.
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