US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to start Balkan visit to push EU integration

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is pressing political reforms to the restive Balkans with the hope that such changes will lead to the region’s full integration into the European Union and NATO.

Clinton is set to visit Sarajevo on Monday, the capital of ethnically divided Bosnia-Herzegovina, which just held elections, to urge the country’s new leadership to make EU membership a priority. She then travels to Serbia and its now-independent former province of Kosovo to encourage the bitterly divided sides to normalize relations.

From Kosovo, Clinton will bring her message to EU headquarters in Brussels, where she will also attend NATO meetings on Thursday with Defense Secretary Robert Gates to discuss European security.

In Sarajevo on Tuesday, Clinton plans to see top officials in Bosnia’s tripartite government to push constitutional and other changes deemed necessary for EU membership.

After Bosnia, Clinton goes to the Serbian capital of Belgrade to push leaders there for a speedy start to talks with the world’s newest nation of Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008 and is still not recognized by its former master and a number of European countries. Neither Serbia nor Kosovo are yet members of the EU.

Serbian President Boris Tadic has said he is ready to participate in the talks but will never recognize Kosovo’s secession, a stance that does not auger well for the success of the negotiations. Clinton also hopes to tamp down calls in Serbia for Kosovo’s borders to be challenged as the U.S. believes that would set a bad precedent.

On Wednesday, Clinton moves to Kosovo for similar discussion in the capital of Pristina where she plans to also promote tolerance and integration between the deeply divided ethnic Albanian and minority Serb communities. She will visit the Serb-majority town of Gracanica to stress the importance of inclusion, Gordon said.

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