Washington, 29 May 1998 (RFE/RL) -- A group of ethnic Albanian leaders from the Serb-ruled Kosovo province will ask President Bill Clinton for concrete support in a meeting scheduled at the White House today.
Bujar Bukoshi -- self-styled prime minister of Kosovo's government-in-exile -- said "we need something concrete to tell our people and offer something for the future when we go back."
In an RFE/RL interview last night after talks at the State Department with Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and top U.S. negotiator on the Balkans Robert Gelbard, Bukoshi said he expects the U.S. to increase humanitarian aid for Kosovars and announce other measures of support at the White House meeting.
He said the fact that he and Ibrahim Rugova -- so-called president of the self-declared government -- are being received by Clinton, along with senior advisers Veton Surroi and Fehmi Agani, is in itself a sign of support for the ethnic Albanian leadership's policy.
"We want to do our utmost to avoid an open conflict and to move the Kosovo crisis onto a negotiating track," Bukoshi said.
That is what the U.S. wants, too, and Washington officials say the unprecedented meeting is indeed intended to show U.S. support for the non-violent agenda advocated by Rugova and Bukoshi. But the U.S. has never recognized the Kosovo government and maintains the province -- populated overwhelmingly by ethnic Albanians -- must remain part of Serbia.
Bukoshi says he sees no clash between U.S. policy and his party's position. He explained that Kosovo's independence remains the ultimate goal but that the priority now is to prevent an escalation of hostilities into open warfare.
"Our interest now is to avoid open conflict, and the independence of Kosovo we consider as a process," he said, adding that "we are committed to achieving this goal peacefully and through negotiations."
Bukoshi said the message the ethnic Albanians are taking to the White House is that the U.S. must take strong action "to get Serbia to end the killings and stop this unbearable repression and state terror -- this is the first priority."
Earlier, he told a Washington audience of scholars and diplomats that it is vitally important for the U.S. to renew a threat of sanctions against Serbia. "U.S. policy-makers must recognize we are already in the first phase of war," he said.
The sanctions, including a ban on investments and international loans, were in force only briefly and were lifted last week after Federal Yugoslavia President Slobodan Milosevic and Rugova agreed to a dialogue on the Kosovo crisis and met in Belgrade.
U.S. officials say Clinton will assure Rugova and Bukoshi of U.S. support for the talks that are to be held on a weekly basis by negotiating teams.
But in the RFE/RL interview, Bukoshi urged more forceful U.S. action to pressure the Serbs into genuine good faith negotiations. He said the continuing violence in Kosovo does not indicate a political will on the Serb side to create a good atmosphere for the talks.
Bukoshi said his group needs tangible support from the U.S. also to shore up its own credibility with the people of Kosovo, whom he said are arming themselves and growing increasingly militant and radical.
"No Albanian in Kosovo sees any perspective for the future under Serbian jurisdiction," he said, repeating that independence remains a legitimate and steadfast goal of his government.
The ethnic Albanian opposition "government" came into being after underground elections in 1992. Rugova was re-elected "president" in March but no country recognizes his government, and Bukoshi himself lives in exile in Germany.