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Bush: U.N. must act now on Kosovo

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Bush says U.N. must act on independence for breakaway province of Kosovo
Bush in Albania, the first visit by U.S. leader to the tiny Balkan state
• Tirana festooned with U.S. flags, welcome banners and posters of Bush
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TIRANA, Albania (CNN) -- Setting up possibly another showdown with Russia, U.S. President George W. Bush has said "the time is now" to grant independence to the Serbian province of Kosovo and called on Moscow not to slow down the process.

"I happen to believe it's important to push the process along," Bush said Sunday at a joint news conference with Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha.

"The question is whether or not there's going to be endless dialogue on a subject that we have made up our mind about. We believe Kosovo ought to be independent."

Bush is the first sitting president to visit the Balkan state that was once a closed, communist society but is now a close ally of the United States.

During his seven scheduled hours in Albania, Bush was spared the sort of protests that greeted his visits to Germany and Italy. Bush enjoys widespread popularity in the country: a street in front of Albania's parliament is named after him, several postal stamps bear his image and many Albanians donned red, white, and blue hats and waved American flags during Bush's visit.

Albania's government supports independence for Kosovo, a province dominated by ethnic Albanians.

His visit to Tirana follows last week's Group of Eight summit in Germany, where the leaders of eight major industrialized nations discussed Kosovo among many other topics.

Bush said the G8 supported Kosovo's independence, but "discussions were all aimed at determining if there is a way to make this acceptable to Russia."

"Obviously they're not there yet ... I'm worried about expectations not being met in Kosovo and therefore we'll push the process."

A vote on Kosovo's independence is before the United Nations Security Council, on which Russia holds a veto-wielding seat.

Bush said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would pursue the issue through diplomacy with Moscow along with America's European allies.

But the diplomacy surrounding the issue seemed a bit fuzzy when Bush was asked about his call for a deadline on U.N. action on Kosovo.

"First of all, I don't think I called for a deadline, I thought I said (timetable)," Bush said.

Responding to the reporter, who could not be heard, Bush responded, "I did, what exactly did I say? I said deadline? OK ... Then I meant what I said."

Following his visit to Albania, Bush heads to Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday and then returns home.

'Loving man'

Before the G8 summit, Bush visited Czech leaders in Prague then headed to Poland and Italy after the June 7-8 summit.

He met Pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican on Saturday, his first meeting with the pontiff who succeeded Pope John Paul II following his death two years ago. (Full story)

Following his visit to Albania, Bush headed to Sofia, Bulgaria on Sunday and will return to Washington on Monday.

Russia and the United States have recently been at loggerheads over Bush's plan to set up a missile defense system in the Czech Republic and Poland.

Bush, trying to ease Russian President Vladimir Putin's concerns, has repeatedly said the deployment of a missile defense system would not be aimed at Russia.

Bush said he was open to discussing Putin's idea of jointly setting up a system in countries more friendly to Russia, such as the former Soviet republic of Azerbaijan.

"I thought his statement was a very important statement to make. In other words, he recognized that there's an opportunity to work together," Bush said.

"I viewed it as a very positive gesture and looking forward to continuing discussions on this very subject in July when he comes to Maine."

CNN's White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux contributed to this report.

U.S. President George W. Bush greets the crowd as he leaves a cultural event in Fushe-Kruja, Albania.



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