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US Disappointed Over Failure of Bosnia Reform Talks

The State Department is expressing disappointment over the failure by key leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina to make progress on government reforms in three days of U.S.-brokered talks in Washington. U.S. officials say the stalemate is blocking the Balkan country's prospective membership in the European Union and NATO. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

Officials here are using unusually blunt terms to express their displeasure over the continuing impasse in U.S.-mediated reform talks between the Bosnian Serb and Muslim leaders.

Haris Silajdzic, leader of the country's Muslim community, and prime minister Milorad Dodik of the country's ethnic-Serb entity the Republika Serbska, spent three days behind closed doors with senior State Department officials in a new U.S. push for constitutional reforms.

The Bush administration had hoped to conclude an agreement to unify the ethnically-separate police forces of the country's two mini-states, one led by Serbs and the other by Muslims and Croats, and to at least make progress on a streamlined central government.

But a written statement issued at the close of the meetings late Thursday by State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey expressed disappointment that the two leaders had failed to reach agreement on the issues.

Casey said by failing to overcome the differences, the sides are making it impossible for Bosnia and Herzegovina to proceed on a path of full integration into Euro-Atlantic structures.

Casey said the leaders must work within the framework of the 1995 Dayton peace accords to resolve their issues, and live up to their obligations to the country's citizens for a stable and prosperous future.

U.S. participants in the talks included Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns, Assistant Secretary for Europe and Eurasia Dan Fried, and the U.S. Ambassador in Sarajevo Douglas McElhaney.

In a VOA interview, McElhaney said the United States will not halt its mediation efforts though no new talks are in immediate prospect. He declined to apportion blame, and said both sides need to compromise:

"We thought we had a good chance of coming to agreements and I think a lot of people were very optimistic," he said. "This doesn't mean however that we're somehow or another going to walk away from the issues involved here. We're going to continue to push this forward, and we're going to have to remind people, as we reminded Mr. DodiK and Mr. Silajdzic, that you can't do anything today in Bosnia and Herzegovina without compromising. And the compromise was not there."

Ambassador McElhaney said it is virtually impossible under the country's current political structure to get anything done on the national level, and he said unifying the police is a fundamental condition for Bosnia reaching a stabilization and association agreement with the EU.

The statement issued here said Undersecretary Burns stressed the importance of halting the nationalist rhetoric that has characterized the Bosnian political environment for the past year.

In an appearance earlier Thursday at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, Mr. Silajdzic accused the ethnic-Serb side of wanting to make the divided status-quo a permanent solution, though he said he remained hopeful of an agreement in the near future.

Before leaving for Washington, Mr. Dodik reiterated his party's stand that Bosnia should become a federation of three ethnically-based units, one Serb, one Muslim and the other Croat.