WASHINGTON (AP)--A senior State Department official said Friday the U.S. will take a "very tough-minded approach" toward Serbia for its failure to arrest Bosnian Serb leaders wanted by the U.N. war crimes tribunal in the Hague.
Nicholas Burns, the State Department's third-ranking official, told reporters former general Ratko Mladic is still at large despite assurances by Serb authorities in June that he would be taken into custody.
"It did not happen," said Burns, who will visit Serbia as well as Kosovo and Bosnia next week. His trip will begin in Belgium, where he will attend a meeting the North Atlantic Council on Tuesday.
He said the U.S. will invite Balkan leaders to Washington next month, the 10th anniversary of the signing of the Dayton agreement, which essentially ended the Bosnia war.
One goal of the November meetings, he said, is to see if Balkan leaders "can put the past firmly behind them" by arresting Mladic and former Bosnian leader Radovan Karadzic. In addition, he called for the arrest of Croatian Gen. Croatian Gen. Ante Gotovina, who also is wanted at the Hague on war crimes charges.
On Bosnia, Burns hailed the "enormous progress" made in the recent past in overcoming ethnic differences and putting the country on a path toward unifying its military and police forces.
In Kosovo, Burns said the uncertain political status that has persisted since 1999 "is no longer sustainable."
He said he is hopeful that final status talks can begin well before the end of 2005.
"The people of the region have a right to know that they have a future and can control that future," Burns said.
At issue is Serbia's refusal to accept the demands of Kosovar Albanians for an independent Kosovo.
As for his visit to Belgrade, Burns said he will tell Serb leaders the U.S. wants to welcome the country into a partnership with NATO but will block any such relationship so long as Karadzic and Mladic are still at large.
He acknowledged that Karadzic may be in the Serb sector of Bosnia and not in Serbia itself.
"It does not stand to reason that these people cannot be found," Burns said.
On Croatia, Burns said the country hasn't made adequate progress is finding and arresting Gotovina. Until he is taken to The Hague, the U.S. will oppose Croatia's bid for membership in NATO, Burns said.
Other candidates for NATO membership are Macedonia and Albania. [ 07-10-05 1544GMT ]