US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton arrived in Bosnia on Monday to start a five-nation Balkans tour during which she will push for greater integration of the volatile region into the EU and NATO.
Clinton, who was to be joined by EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton yesterday, was expected to call on Bosnia to speed up reforms in the country still deeply divided along ethnic lines 17 years after the 1992 to 1995 war there.
“I think the message from Secretary Clinton and High Representative Ashton will be that ... we would like to see [Bosnia] becoming a member of European Union/NATO, but we really need the necessary reforms,” a US State Department spokesman, asking to remain anonymous, said ahead of the trip.
Clinton and Ashton were due to meet with Bosnia’s three-man presidency and top international officials.
Following the US-brokered 1995 Dayton peace deal, Bosnia consists of two semi-independent entities — the Serbs’ Republika Srpska and the Muslim-Croat Federation. Each of the two halves, which are linked by weak central institutions, has its own government.
The ethnic rift in Bosnia is deeper than ever with Serbs rejecting any boosting of central institutions, sought by Muslims and the international community and regularly warning that their entity could break away and should negotiate separately on EU entry.
Sarajevo lags behind its neighbors in their EU path. Bosnia is the only Balkans country that has yet to apply for EU membership, which it will probably do by the end of this year.
Bosnian Foreign Minister Zlatko Lagumdzija said Clinton’s visit was a “strong message showing that the US is standing by Bosnia and wants its success as a state and as a society.”
“We count on getting support for accession to the EU and NATO, but also a clear call to all political actors in Bosnia that the process of reforms has no alternative and that it has be accelerated,” Lagumdzija told reporters.
Clinton, who arrived in Bosnia from Algeria — where she held talks to press for a possible military intervention in Mali, large swathes of which have been overrun by Islamists — was set to travel from Sarajevo to Belgrade and Pristina yesterday.
There, Clinton and Ashton will “reiterate US-EU resolve for Serbia and Kosovo to build on previous agreements and advance their dialogue, as well as to encourage concrete steps that will allow those countries to progress on their respective paths to EU membership,” the US State Department said.
Serbia rejects Kosovo’s unilateral 2008 proclamation of independence, which is recognized by about 90 states including 22 of the EU’s 27 members and the US.
Talks between Belgrade and Pristina, launched in March this year under EU auspices, were suspended before May’s elections in Serbia, won by nationalists.
Serbia is an EU candidate, and Kosovo hopes to formalize ties, but the bloc has made clear to both that they must restart talks and show concrete results.
Clinton will end her tour in Croatia and Albania, which joined the NATO transatlantic military alliance in 2009.
Clinton last visited Bosnia, as well as Serbia and Kosovo — which emerged from the 1990s break-up of the former Yugoslavia — in 2010.
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