EU Members Split on Recognizing Kosovo

ReutersKosovo Serbs attending a demonstration in the village of Strbce on Monday.
BRUSSELS, Belgium -- European powers France, Britain and Germany led the 27-nation European Union on Monday in recognizing Kosovo's independence. Spain and Slovakia, however, called Kosovo's move illegal.

U.S. President George W. Bush, meanwhile hailed Kosovo's bid for statehood and the U.S. government extended formal recognition to it as "a sovereign and independent state."

France's foreign minister announced that President Nicolas Sarkozy had sent a letter to Pristina to announce that Paris was establishing diplomatic ties with Europe's newest country.

"We intend to recognize Kosovo," Bernard Kouchner told reporters at the end of an EU foreign ministers' meeting held a day after Kosovo declared independence from Serbia.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier followed with similar announcements. "A majority of the EU states will recognize Kosovo, Steinmeier predicted.

But Slovakia and Spain made it clear that Kosovo's independence bid -- and efforts to recognize it -- were illegal under international law.

"Slovakia does not see a way to recognize Kosovo," Slovakia's Foreign Minister Jan Kubis said. Slovakia, with a sizable Hungarian minority, fears Kosovo's move will encourage ethnic tensions.

Foreign ministers agreed that Kosovo deserved a rare exemption from international law, saying its unilateral declaration was justified by Belgrade's oppression and Serb leaders' rejection of a negotiated final status for the region.

That statement made it possible for some EU nations to recognize Kosovo's independence as an exception to the rule of "territorial integrity" under international law.

Seventeen other member states will "move quickly" to back Germany, France and Britain, Steinmeier said.

Spain said earlier that it would not recognize Kosovo's independence.

"We're not going to recognize it because we don't consider that it respects international law," Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos said.

Spain's opposition to Kosovo's independence is rooted in the fear that independence-minded regions in Spain -- notably the Basque area -- may similarly secede.

Greece, Romania and Cyprus also are against Kosovo's new status.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a statement that Bush "has responded affirmatively" to Kosovo's request to establish diplomatic relations.

"The establishment of these relations will reaffirm the special ties of friendship that have linked together the people of the United States and Kosovo," the statement said.