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Page last updated at 14:03 GMT, Thursday, 21 May 2009 15:03 UK

No going back for Kosovo, says US

Joe Biden is welcomed at Pristina's airport (21 May 2009)
Kosovans have been keen to show their appreciation of the US

US Vice-President Joe Biden has told Kosovo's parliament its independence is "absolutely irreversible" and the only viable option for regional stability.

"The success of an independent Kosovo is a priority for our administration," Mr Biden said in a speech that received several standing ovations from MPs.

Earlier, he received an enthusiastic welcome from crowds of ethnic Albanians in the capital, Pristina.

However, the Serb minority said it was planning to hold anti-US protests.

The US played a leading role in the Nato bombing campaign which expelled Serbian forces from Kosovo a decade ago.

Medal

On the final stage of his three-day tour of the Balkans, Mr Biden became the most senior US official to visit Kosovo since it declared independence in February 2008.

Your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible
US Vice-President Joe Biden

The US and more than 50 other countries have recognised its independence, but more than 100 have not, including Serbia and Russia.

"Kosovo's independence was and remains today in my view, in the view of my government, the only viable option for stability in the region," he told a special sitting of the parliament in Pristina.

"And your independence - as I've said in the countries I have visited - your independence, is irreversible, absolutely irreversible," he added to applause from the ethnic Albanian-dominated assembly.

Earlier, after holding talks with President Fatmir Sejdiu, Prime Minister Hashim Thaci and other leaders, Mr Biden said he had been awarded the Golden Medal of Freedom, Kosovo's highest honour.

"I don't deserve it, but I received it on behalf of the United States," said the vice-president, who many Kosovans credit with helping them gain independence while he was a senator.

Earlier, thousands of schoolchildren waved US flags along the route his motorcade took from Pristina airport, while posters lined the route declaring "Welcome, and thank you".

Re-engagement

His reception contrasted markedly with that in his previous stop, Serbia, where police lined the streets amid nationalist anger.

MPs from the hardline nationalist Serbian Radical Party held up banners in parliament saying: "Biden, you Nazi scum, go home."

Woman walks past a mural saying "Kosovo is Serbia" in Belgrade (21 May 2009)
Mr Biden said he did not expect Serbia to recognise Kosovo's independence

Serbian President Boris Tadic told Mr Biden on Tuesday that his country would never give up its claim to Kosovo.

But despite that outstanding issue, and the antipathy of many Serbs to the US because of the Nato bombing campaign in 1999, Mr Biden and the pro-Western Mr Tadic exchanged warm words.

Mr Biden said: "The United States does not, I emphasise, does not expect Serbia to recognise the independence of Kosovo."

"It is not a precondition for our relationship or our support for Serbia becoming part of the European Union," he said.

Mr Tadic said Serbia and the US could move their relationship forward "on the basis of dialogue rooted in mutual respect".

The rare visit by a top US official marks a new effort by President Barack Obama to re-engage with the Balkans, BBC Eastern Europe correspondent Nick Thorpe says.

As well as Serbia and Kosovo, he has also visited Bosnia-Hercegovina.



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SEE ALSO
Biden opens new page with Serbia
20 May 09 |  Europe
US seeks to rebuild Balkans ties
19 May 09 |  Europe
Mixed reaction at Kosovo anniversary
17 Feb 09 |  Europe
Kosovo marks 'independence day'
17 Feb 09 |  Europe
Regions and territories: Kosovo
24 Jan 12 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Serbia
21 May 12 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Bosnia-Hercegovina
12 Jan 12 |  Country profiles

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