U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began a two-day Balkan tour by calling on Bosnia-Herzegovina to overcome ethnic divisions and embrace political reforms "or risk being left behind" for European Union and NATO integration.
Later in the day, in Serbia, she lauded that country's willingness to participate in talks with the leadership of the Republic of Kosovo, which sparked a bitter outcry in Belgrade when it declared independence in February 2008.
The Balkan visits are part of an effort to underscore U.S. commitments to regional peace and increased Euro-Atlantic integration for Bosnia, Serbia, and Kosovo.
"Bosnia-Herzegovina together is much stronger, more able, and more likely to move toward an integrated European future than if it is coming apart," Clinton told an audience of several hundred university students in Sarajevo, on the first leg of her tour. "So we do not support and do not believe anyone should support any talk of separation," Clinton said.
Clinton said her message for the three countries would be the same: "Now is the time to strengthen democratic institutions, deepen peace between neighbors, and create the conditions for long-term political, economic, and social progress." She added that there was "no better way to achieve sustained economic growth and long-term political stability than by integrating with Europe."Encouraging Signs From Serbia
Later, at a meeting in Belgrade with Serbian President Boris Tadic, Clinton praised Serbia's leadership for agreeing to talks with Kosovo to resolve all issues remaining since the former Serbian province unilaterally declared independence in 2008.
Clinton said this bilateral "can and will benefit people in Kosovo and Serbia by addressing practical day-to-day issues and the long-term relationship between you. It will also have a positive impact on the relationship between Serbia, your neighbors, Europe, and the United States."
Tadic responded by saying that he had stressed that his country "doesn't recognize Kosovo's independence and we never will," according to RFE/RL's Balkan Service.
He said that Serbia respected the "legitimate rights" of Albanians but "defends its own legitimate rights regarding Kosovo and Metohija," as Kosovo is officially known in Belgrade.
"At the same time Serbia has demonstrated, by working with the 27 members of the European Union -- some of them have recognized the independence of Kosovo and some not -- and submitting a joint UN resolution, its commitment to dialogue and that we seek to begin that dialogue as soon as possible," Tadic said.
In early September, Belgrade signaled its readiness to engage in direct dialogue with Pristina.
"We do not want the dialogue to be postponed but rather to commence it, because only in that way can we overcome the historical conflict that has existed between the Serbs and Albanians for more than 150 years," Tadic said. "We want to talk about all issues concerning the people's lives in Kosovo and Metohija and defend the integrity of our country by peaceful and diplomatic means."Urging Bosnians To 'Overcome Differences'
On her first stop, Clinton spoke at Bosnia's historic National Theater, to which she walked from the headquarters of the country's tripartite presidency, where she said she had encouraged the country's leadership to come together for the sake of the country's prosperity.
Bosnian Presidency Chairman Haris Silajdzic and Presidency Members Nebojsa Radmanovic and Zeljko Komsic (left to right) with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Sarajevo on October 12
"You have come too far, you have too much to lose if you cannot overcome these differences. I just met with the tri-presidency, and we discussed very frankly these kinds of remaining challenges," Clinton said.
The talks followed October 3 elections to the three-member presidency, shared by a Serb, a Croat, and a Muslim, which exposed the country's continuing ethnic divisions 15 years after the end of the civil war.
The vote resulted in victories for moderate Bosniak and Croatian leaders Bakir Izetbegovic and Zeljko Komsic, while Nebojsa Radmanovic, who backs Bosnian Serb separation from the country, also won.
Ahead of Clinton's trip, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Philip Gordon said it was "fair" to say that the political process is stalled in Bosnia because of ethnic rivalries.
Clinton concludes her Balkans trip with a visit to Kosovo on October 13.based on RFE/RL and agency reports