By Daniel Dombey in Brussels and Eric Jansson in Belgrade
Published: October 12 2005 18:46 | Last updated: October 12 2005 18:46
The US will this week deliver a tough message to the countries of the former Yugoslavia that contrasts with the softer approach taken by the European Union.
Brussels has opened negotiations with Croatia and Serbia-Montenegro this month, even though alleged war criminals from the two countries are at large. Croatia is now on course to become an EU member while Serbia is negotiating a “stabilisation and association agreement”, widely seen as a way station to full membership.
By contrast, Washington says neither country should be allowed to deepen its ties with Nato, the US-led military alliance, while the most prominent war crimes indictees Ante Gotovina and Ratko Mladic remain at large.
Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state, is set to deliver the message on a trip to the region this week.
“Nato has to hold this line on these war criminals,” he said in comments ahead of his arrival on Wednesday.
He added that in June he had been led to expect Mr Mladic's imminent arrest: “We're not going to put much stock in promises. We're just going to look for actions, and we'll withhold normalisation of our relations until that happens.”
Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, is also likely to push Bosnia-Herzegovina, which remains largely split between its Serb and Muslim-Croat populations, to move towards becoming a more unitary state over the next 12 to 18 months.
Ms Rice would like to use a conference on the 10th anniversary of Bosnia's Dayton peace deal in November to convince Bosnia to abolish its tripartite presidency to make way for a single head of state. Bosnia at present has a dozen governments at the national, federal and provincial levels.
The pressure from the US and the recent decisions by the EU come at a sensitive time. Serbia, the region's linchpin, faces the prospect of being split off both from its partner state of Montenegro, which is pushing for a referendum on independence, and from its province of Kosovo.
Despite pressure from Belgrade, Kofi Annan, United Nations secretary-general, is set to name Martti Ahtisaari, the former Finnish president, as his special envoy to lead negotiations on Kosovo's final status.