Newly elected members of Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, Croat member Zeljko Komsic, Serb member Milorad Dodik and Bosniak member Sefik Dzaferovic, attend the presidential inauguration ceremony in Sarajevo, Nov. 20, 2018.
Newly elected members of Bosnia's tripartite inter-ethnic presidency, Croat member Zeljko Komsic, Serb member Milorad Dodik and Bosniak member Sefik Dzaferovic, attend the presidential inauguration ceremony in Sarajevo, Nov. 20, 2018.

This story originated in VOA's Bosnian Service.

WASHINGTON — U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Matthew Palmer says the U.S. welcomes an agreement that Bosnia and Herzegovina's political leaders recently signed as part of an effort to break the deadlock in forming the government, and that he hopes Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik stop with the "hard-line rhetoric."

On Aug. 5, leaders of the country's three most influential parties agreed on 12 key issues to resolve as a primary step toward formation of a new government. Based on that list, the leaders then agreed to finalize a deal to open a new government within 30 days.
 

Matthew Palmer, U.S. State Department Director for South Central European Affairs speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Dec. 4, 2018.
Matthew Palmer, U.S. State Department Director for South Central European Affairs speaks during an interview with Reuters in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina Dec. 4, 2018.

Lawmakers, however, have since made little progress toward a binding agreement, as Bosnian Serb leaders are strongly opposed to membership in a western military alliance, while Bosniak and Bosnian Croat lawmakers support it.

On Tuesday, Dodik, leader of Serb-majority Republika Srpska, vowed to torpedo a number of major reforms in the country, including the formation of joint armed forces and a state court and police agency, unless a state-level government is formed soon.

"You know, I don't think that those kinds of threats are really going to help create the kind of political climate conducive to compromise and agreement," Palmer said in an interview with VOA's Bosnian Service. "So I'm hopeful that president Dodik doesn't maintain that kind of hardline rhetoric. I think it's fundamentally unhelpful and creates a political climate in which you have winners and losers rather than the opportunity for everybody to come out with a little bit of what they want and in a position to accept that they've won something."

Palmer also said he's optimistic that the stalled deal to form a government and submit an Annual National Program (ANP) to the alliance's headquarters in Brussels — a required step along the path toward NATO membership — can move forward.

"We think it's a positive development that the leaders of three of the major parties were able to come together and identify compromise as the path forward on both the EU and the NATO track and on government formation," Palmer said. "We understand in particular that both President [Željko] Komsic and President [Šefik] Dzaferovic have made clear that they would like to see an" ANP submitted to Brussels.

"We're hopeful that the presidency can come together and agree on a path forward that that works for all."

Dodik has said that the issue of NATO must not be on the agenda of the three-member state presidency session currently scheduled for Aug. 20, at which the formation of a state government will be discussed.

Bosnia will not hand over the ANP to Brussels. It does not say anywhere that it will. The agreement says nothing [about it]," Dodik said.

The tiny Balkan country of roughly 3.5 million residents applied for EU membership in 2016, following years of constitutional reforms and engagements with the 1995 Dayton Accords that put an end to the nearly 4-year-long Bosnian war.

NATO offered a Membership Action Plan to Bosnia in 2010 but declined to "activate" it until all conditions are met. Submitting its first ANP is a key part of that process.