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Clinton Backs Unity, European Integration for Bosnia-Herzegovina

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told Senators Wednesday the United States would oppose any move to break up Bosnia-Herzegovina, and wants to see the door remain open to NATO and European Union membership for the Balkans country. There is sentiment among Bosnian Serbs for secession for the ethnic-Serb part of the federated state.

Clinton says that while the issue of Bosnia and its political future may have faded from prominence, there is a lot of unfinished business there and volatile issues that are still be addressed.

The status of Bosnia was raised by Senators as Clinton spent much of the day testifying before two Senate committees, ostensibly to defend the administration's foreign affairs budget for the coming year.

The international body overseeing implementation of the Dayton accords that ended the 1990's conflict in Bosnia is meeting this week in Sarajevo, against a backdrop of continued tensions between the semi-autonomous ethnic Serb and the Muslim and ethnic-Croat parts of the federation.

The Prime Minister of the Bosnian Serb Republic, Miloran Dodik has urged a referendum on the continued international role in the federation's governance and court system, which some analysts fear may be a prelude to a referendum on Serb secession.

Clinton told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee the United States wants Bosnia-Herzegovina to stay united and looking toward Europe and that the door to eventual NATO membership remains open.

"We don't want to see any moves to break up Bosnia, and we worry about that a lot. So there is a long list of concerns. But the NATO piece of it, I'm watching very closely because I share your concerns that we want Bosnia-Herzegovina to feel like they're welcome. And they may not be there yet. But with a little more effort, they could be," she said.

Clinton was responding to questioning by Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen, who expressed concern that member countries of NATO and particularly the European Union may be experiencing enlargement fatigue, and are disinclined to offer Bosnia paths to membership.

The Secretary said the United States is encouraging the E.U. to do more to demonstrate the benefits to Bosnia-Herzegovina of membership, and to work with the Sarajevo government on what it must do to become eligible.

She said the Obama administration supports the same path for neighboring Serbia.

Earlier, at a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing, Republican Senator George Voinovich told Clinton he encountered deep concern, on a visit to the Balkans last week, that the Bosnian peace process could fail unless the country gets NATO candidate membership status and eased visa status with the E.U.