As talks approach on Kosovo's political status, a senior State Department official warned on Tuesday that will use force to counter any attempt to influence the process through violence. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns made clear the NATO stand during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in which he joined senators in stressing the need for compromise in the discussions.
While he noted that some acknowledge the need for tolerance during this juncture between Kosovar Albanians and Serbs, "there is too little of it."
Burns recalled a recent meeting he had with five Kosovar-Albanians in which all said they would be unwilling to sit down with Serb leaders.
Sen. Joseph Biden said Serbs and Albanians will go into the talks bearing the weight of 800 years of sectarian conflict.
Kosovar Albanians must display "substantial flexibility that I'm not sure exists, Biden said. At the same time, he said, Serbs must avoid "clinging to the territorial artifacts of the past."
U.N.-sponsored final status discussions for Kosovo are expected to get under way under the leadership of former Finnish President Matti Ahtissari.
The United Nations has been the ultimate authority in NATO since 1999, backed up by 17,000 NATO peacekeepers.
NATO, Burns said, "is going to use force if violence is used as a political tactic" by either side when the talks begin.
Burns said it is unclear whether the Serbian delegation at the talks will consists exclusively officials from Belgrade or whether it will be a mixed Belgrade-Kosovar Serb delegation.
He said it would be a "major miscalculation" for Belgrade to order their brethren in Kosovo to boycott the process, the AP says.
As for the Kosovar-Albanians, once a beleaguered minority within Serbia, Burns said that they must assure the minority Serbs in Kosovo that "they have a future" in the territory.
Committee Chairman Richard Lugar highlighted the difficulties that lie ahead in the negotiations.