( dpa ) - The United States on Monday recognized Kosovo as an independent state and said it was committed to relations with Serbia and protecting minority rights in the newly created nation.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice congratulated Kosovo's people on the "historic occasion" and said President George W Bush had accepted a request to establish diplomatic relations.
"The United States has today formally recognized Kosovo as a sovereign and independent state," Rice said in a statement.
"The establishment of these relations will reaffirm the special ties of friendship that have linked together the people of the United States and Kosovo," she said.
Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia on Sunday has divided members of the European Union, with Britain, France, Germany and Italy on Monday saying they planned to recognize the territory.
Russia has called on the United Nations to declare Kosovo's move illegal under international law and an emergency meeting of the Security Council was planned for Monday afternoon.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the US "fundamentally disagreed with Russia over the legality of Kosovo's independence, but told reporters that he did not expect a "crisis" to emerge with Moscow over the issue.
Burns urged "calm" in the region and defended the US decision, calling it the culmination of 10 years of policy and warning that anything other than independence for Kosovo would have encouraged even more violence. Burns said he hoped Moscow would also be "supportive of stability in the region."
Rice said the US welcomed Kosovo's commitment to UN envoy Martti Ahtisaari's plan for a break from Serbia under international supervision. She said Kosovo's path was a "special case" given Yugoslavia's breakup and its brutal war with Serbia in the late 1990s.
The province has been governed by a United Nations administration since a NATO bombing campaign ousted Serbian forces from the province in 1999. Efforts between Serbian and Kosovo leaders over the past years to achieve a negotiated solution to Kosovo's status had failed.
"Kosovo cannot be seen as a precedent for any other situation in the world today," Rice said.
Rice also said the United States reaffirmed its friendship with Serbia, which strongly opposes Kosovo's independence, and pledged to work with its leaders to ensure the rights of the Serbian minority in Kosovo.
Burns said Rice spoke with Serbian President Boris Tadic on Sunday. He said NATO troops would remain in Kosovo for the foreseeable future and had a responsibility to protect the Serbians who stayed.
"We take that responsibility very seriously," Burns said in a conference call with reporters.
Bush had earlier backed Kosovo's declaration of independence in a television interview with NBC.
"The Kosovars are now independent. It's something that I have advocated, along with my government," Bush said during a visit to Tanzania.
He said the Ahtisaari plan remained the "blueprint forward" in the process.
Burns said Kosovo's people had been "remarkably patient" over the last nine years and said prospects for the new state were high despite a number of difficult challenges.
"We think it's going to be a stable state," he said.