PRISTINA (Reuters) - Bosnia is the Balkan country most at risk of new violence, but does not need to redo the peace deal that created an ethnically divided state, U.S. Vice President Joe Biden said on a tour that ended on May 22.
Biden travelled to Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo this week to signal renewed U.S. engagement in a region engulfed by war in the 1990s when Yugoslavia collapsed.
In a speech to Bosnia's parliament, he warned continued ethnic divide could keep the country among Europe's poorest and could lead anew to fighting.
Yet in an interview with Reuters and several other publications on the evening of May 21, Biden opposed brokering a new international conference to replace the 1995 Dayton peace treaty, which ended the fighting that killed 100,000, but left the country divided into Serb and Muslim-Croat halves.
"Dayton Two is not needed," Biden said at the U.S. military base Camp Bondsteel in Kosovo. "As a matter of fact, Dayton Two at this moment I believe would only harden positions."
"It would play to nationalist impulses, at this time, so I think it is Dayton enforced, Dayton realised is what is needed," he continued. "Dayton, imperfect, was necessary, and at least in the foreseeable future is the only sort of guarantor for the continuation of non violence."
Some experts have suggested that the United States and Europe hold a conference to heal the country's divide where the Serb Republic under Prime Minister Milorad Dodik has made a play for ever greater autonomy.
"America needs to take its part of responsibility for this agony and straitjacket they designed for Bosnia along with Europe," said Svetlana Cenic, a commentator from the Bosnian Serb capital Banja Luka. "I hope to spend my old age in a normal state."
Biden, who left Kosovo on May 22, said the lure of European Union membership and clear directions on how to get there would help bring together ethnically divided Bosnians.
"I am not pessimistic that over the next several years there will be real accommodation made," he said. "You will see an initial hesitancy, you will see a lot of kicking and screaming going on politically, but I think you will eventually see a transition that leads Bosnia to not want to be left behind."
Dodik this week initially brushed off Biden's visit, saying he was more interested in the result of a match of his favorite local basketball club, but after meeting the U.S. vice president said he remains a firm backer of Dayton and EU membership.
Dodik emerged on the Bosnian Serb political scene after the war as a leader of a minor social democratic party and was first installed as a prime minister with support of the West, which saw him as the only opposition to wartime nationalists.
But he has since changed his course and rhetoric, deepening ethnic divisions since he returned to power three years ago.
During his trip, Biden also met Serbian President Boris Tadic and praised him for rejecting past Serb nationalism.
"Notwithstanding the fact that on many occasions Dodik has not been helpful...I remain hopeful because I am convinced Tadic is playing a positive role relative to the Republika Srpska," the vice president said. "I am convinced from meeting with Tadic that a greater Serbia is also not an aspiration as it relates to the RS, the Republika Srpska."
James Lyon of the Democratization Policy Council think tank said the Biden visit signaled a needed U.S. focus on Bosnia's problems. "The European Union has so far not been able to come up with adequate measures and in fact the European policy probably has been harming the situation, which is why U.S. decided it has to become engaged again," he said.