The comment by House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lantos, D-Calif., came during a heated discussion with Russian lawmakers in Washington last week and highlights sharp differences with Russia over the future of Kosovo, whose majority ethnic Albanian residents want independence from Serbia.
Lantos and Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., said the United States supported the U.N. plan for Kosovo independence drawn up by Finnish diplomat and former President Martti Ahtisaari.
Russian officials have opposed the plan, wary that it might set a precedent for many of the ethnic enclaves in their own country. As a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, Russia has a veto and could block the plan.
"We will solve the (Kosovo) problem either via the United Nations," said Lantos, "or the Kosovars will declare their independence unilaterally.
"I can assure you the following day, the United States will recognize Kosovo as an independent country, as will the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Holland, Denmark and all the others."
Both he and Engel sought to reassure the visitors from Moscow, members of the Russian Parliament, or Duma, that independence for Kosovo would not set a precedent.
But they did not appear to succeed, and the Russian parliamentarians pointed out that independence for Kosovo would be the first time in post-World War II European history that the boundaries of a unitary nation-state had been redrawn against its will.
"Why can't Kosovo be seen as a precedent for Abkhazia or Transnistria or Southern Ossetia?" asked Alexander Kozlovsky, deputy chairman of the Duma's International Affairs Committee, referring to three ethnic enclaves in the former Soviet Union with independence movements.
"If Kosovo achieves independence, there won't be a single Abkhazian or Southern Ossetian (who) will not understand why can't he achieve independence," he concluded.