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October 29, 2012

Clinton on Balkan Tour to Promote Reforms

by Scott Stearns

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in the Balkans to encourage continued economic and political reforms in the region.  

U.S. officials say the trip is about "unfinished business" in Europe - helping to encourage democracy, stability and prosperity throughout the Balkans.

European Union membership has been a strong incentive for countries to reform economies, advance democracies and make peace with neighbors - goals that U.S. officials say they support in the Balkans as much as they have in Central and Eastern Europe.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is scheduled to join Secretary Clinton in Bosnia, Serbia and Kosovo, where a senior State Department official says the United States and European Union have a common interest in strengthening the rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights along with free markets.

Obama administration officials say they have not been shy about expressing their disappointment that the leaders of Bosnia and Herzegovina have promoted narrow ethnic, personal or party agendas over the interests of their country.

The United States would like Bosnia and Herzegovina to become a member of the European Union and NATO.  But U.S. officials say there must first be the resolution of longstanding issues of governance and budgeting, and the disposition of state property.

On Tuesday, Clinton is expected to start work in Sarajevo, where she and Ashton meet with the three collective heads of state of the Bosnian presidency.  They then travel to Belgrade for talks with Serbian leaders about normalizing relations with Kosovo, including on issues of land records and freedom of movement.

The United States opposes the presence of parallel institutions in Serbian parts of Kosovo, including hospitals, schools and courts financed by Serbia.

In Pristina, Clinton and Ashton are expected to meet with Kosovar leaders as well as members of the local Serb community about the importance of Kosovo being a multiethnic democracy, where Serb-majority municipalities elect their own leaders.

In Zagreb, Clinton will welcome Croatia's accession to the European Union next year as an example for other Balkan states.  She then flies to Tirana where she will help mark the 100th anniversary of Albanian independence from Ottoman rule, while calling for greater political cooperation and rule of law.