Balkan nations hand over suspects to war crimes tribunal, unless U.S. will block their attempts to draw closer to NATO

The United States insisted Tuesday that it will block efforts by Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro to draw closer to NATO until the Balkan nations hand over suspects to the international war crimes tribunal.

"NATO has to hold this line on these war criminals," said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. "We can't forget and we cannot let these war criminals off the hook."

His comments came a week after the European Union adopted a softer line on closer ties with both countries, the AP reports.

Burns also gave vigorous U.S. backing to the decision Friday by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to recommend the start of international talks that could lead to the independence of Kosovo.

He said the talks should start before the end of this year and "proceed in a rapid and focused way." Burns was noncommittal on whether Kosovo should chose independence or remain as an autonomous part of Serbia. A.M.

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