ANALYSIS: US welcomes "Muslim state" in Kosovo
Feb 20, 2008, 2:23 GMT
Washington - In the push for Kosovo's independence, the United States found an attractive side benefit to ending nine years of limbo: helping Muslims start a new nation of their own.
The main US argument for backing the ethnic Albanian majority's break with Serbia was that letting tensions fester would make fresh Balkan violence more likely. That, in turn, might force the US and other countries to send more troops to Kosovo.
But top US officials and legislators, eager to counter criticism of American policy in Arab nations and the wider Islamic world, have also pointed to Kosovo as an example of what Washington has done for Muslims.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the number three US diplomat, noted that more than 90 per cent of Kosovo's estimated 2.1 million people are Muslims.
'We think it is a very positive step that this state - Muslim majority state - has been created today,' Burns said Monday. 'We think it's going to be a stable state.'
Three weeks before the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, then-US secretary of state Colin Powell cited Kosovo when he rejected charges that the United States was going to war with Islam.
He pointed to the 78-day NATO bombing of Serbia in 1999, which forced Serb leader Slobodan Milosevic to withdraw his forces from Kosovo after they went on a bloody rampage to quell a separatist insurgency.
'When Kosovo, the Muslims of Kosovo, were in danger ... we came to their rescue, with other nations,' Powell told a radio interviewer.
Joseph Biden, a Democrat who now heads the US Senate's foreign relations committee, enthused in late 2005 about pro-US feelings among Kosovars.
'Pristina is one of the few Muslim cities in the world where the United States is not only respected but revered,' he said, referring to Kosovo's capital.
But the goal of drawing down US troops in the Balkans, once set by President George W Bush, faded as talks on a 'final status' accord for Kosovo deadlocked.
Russia's refusal to support a United Nations stamp of approval for Kosovo's statehood means that foreign forces will likely have to ensure security for some time.
'The main strategic interest that pushed the US to address the final status question was America's desire to get out of the Balkans,' said Charles Kupchan, a European affairs analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington. 'That has backfired.'
Some 16,000 troops serve in the NATO-led Kosovo Force, including 1,500 US forces. And the US has an interest in a Balkan presence, especially as Russian influence in Serbia has grown.
Frank Wisner, the US envoy to the Kosovo status talks, said this month that Kosovo is 'important to the United States because we are responsible as well for Europes security.'
Creating a Muslim-majority state in a region that is the cradle of the Serbs' Orthodox Christian religion never was the driving force of US policy on Kosovo, Kupchan said in a telephone interview.
'But it's a fringe benefit,' he said.