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Serbian President At UN Balances Outreach To West, Anger On Kosovo

  • Nikola Krastev

Serbian President Boris Tadic (file photo)

Serbian President Boris Tadic (file photo)

NEW YORK -- Every year at this time, presidents from around the world address the General Assembly. The speeches are intended to do two things: present the presidents' viewpoints on world problems and to endorse the UN as a global forum for helping solve them.

Serbian President Boris Tadic's speech to the UN General Assembly today will try to do just that, but of all the presidents speaking this week and next, his position is one of the most delicate.

That is because Serbia and Kosovo are a bit of unfinished business at the UN that can't help but remind the world body of its own limitations.

The issue of Kosovo's independence paralyzed the UN last year as the Security Council's permanent members split over the former Serbian, but majority ethnic-Albanian, province's future.

As a result, the UN-supervised province unilaterally declared independence in February 2008. Most Western countries recognized Kosovo as a new country. But Serbia's ally Russia did not, and due to Moscow's veto power, Kosovo today has little chance of getting a seat at the United Nations.

Tadic's appearance at the UN cannot help but bring all this trouble back to mind. And that leaves him with a delicate balancing act as he seeks to define where Serbia wants to go from here with the international community.

What Tadic will say is not yet known, but in the run-up to today's speech he has been sounding two themes.

The first is a desire to reengage with the West after so often being isolated by it over conflicts in the former Yugoslavia.

'Never, Under Any Circumstances...'

Speaking on September 23 at the World Leaders Forum 2009 hosted by Columbia University, Tadic said U.S. companies, and their investments, play an important role in Serbia's economic life.

And he said those economic ties could provide a basis for renewed political cooperation with Washington.

"This could set the stage for the formulation of a new American policy towards Serbia and the rest of the western Balkans, one that will hopefully take into account more than at present the interests of Serbia as the central strategic factor of stability in our region," Tadic told the forum.

But Tadic also stood firm on Kosovo.

"Let me make it clear that Serbia will never, under any circumstances, implicitly or explicitly recognize Kosovo's unilateral declaration of independence," he said.

Repeatedly asked by students whether a partition of Kosovo would be an acceptable solution to Belgrade, Tadic restated his "no" again and again.

"But I am suggesting no partition," he said. "No partition anymore. We are suffering very much because of attempt of partition, attempt of secession. This is not sustainable solution in the Balkans region of everywhere else."

Tadic's effort to strike a new balance with the West needs a name to help explain it, and Tadic gave it one. He told the Columbia University forum his approach is cooperation with "divergence" of views.

The question now is whether that approach is enough to bridge the many deep differences between Serbia and the West over Kosovo.

Tadic has told Serbian media he will use his UN address to stress Serbia's "fundamental political principles and its defense of national interests" regarding Kosovo.

He also said this year's assembly session is of great importance to help prevent further countries from recognizing Kosovo.

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