SARAJEO, BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton have told Bosnian leaders they must put aside divisions and make substantive reforms to advance toward membership in NATO and the European Union.
Clinton said last month's local government elections in Bosnia-Herzegovina showed the strength of people's commitment to their future. It is a strength that she said must be matched by their politicians.
"We are here today to urge that all of the leaders of this country find common ground and act in the interest of the people," said Clinton.
She said key reforms have not been made and political party differences stand in the way of shared progress.
"Now as I know very well coming from a political background in the United States, political compromise is rarely easy, but it is absolutely necessary," said Clinton.
Seventeen years after the end of fighting here, Bosnian leaders have still not fully implemented the Dayton Accords that ended the war. U.S. officials say there remain long-standing issues of governance, accountability, budgeting and ownership of state property.
EU representative Ashton said Europeans want to see a united, stable, prosperous and multi-ethnic Bosnia-Herzegovina that takes its rightful place in the European and trans-Atlantic community. But making that future real requires action.
"It is important to look beyond the domestic divisions, the political rivalries and the vested interests. Otherwise, this country risks being left behind by other countries in the region who are making strong progress toward the European Union," said Ashton.
Bakir Izetbegovic is the chairman of Bosnia-Herzegovina's three-man presidency. He said pursuing a NATO and EU future means overcoming narrow interests of nationalism. He spoke in Sarajevo through a translator.
"This rhetoric leads us backwards. It is retrograde. The European Union and the United States of America will support exclusively a unified Bosnia-Herzegovina. They want to talk only to one address here, to one voice here in Bosnia-Herzegovina," said Izetbegovic.
If Bosnian leaders can put in place specific reforms by November, Clinton promised to ask NATO ministers in December to make Bosnia part of NATO's Membership Action Plan of advice, assistance and practical support to join the alliance.