Critics: U.S. Didn't Finish The Job In The Balkans

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leaves Monday for the Balkans, where her husband's administration was deeply involved in ending ethnic conflicts and launching nation-building exercises that are still far from complete. Clinton is to visit Bosnia to nudge the rival ethnic parties to overhaul the constitution. She'll also visit Serbia and Kosovo to encourage them to negotiate now that an international court ruled that Kosovo's independence declaration was legal.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:

Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton leaves today for a tour of the Balkans. Her husband's administration was deeply involved in ending ethnic conflicts and launching nation-building exercises. But as we just heard, those efforts are still far from complete. NPR's Michele Kelemen has this preview.

MICHELE KELEMEN: When Clinton was First Lady, the U.S. helped end the war in Bosnia Herzegovina and helped stop an ethnic cleansing campaign against Kosovo-Albanians. But the U.S. took its eye off the ball according to Kurt Volker, a former ambassador to NATO, now with the Center for the Study of the Presidency.

Mr. KURT VOLKER (Center for the Study of the Presidency): We thought that we had done the job back in the 90s, when President Bill Clinton was there and we stopped the war in Bosnia and stopped the war in Kosovo. Then we moved on.

KELEMEN: And Volker says the U.S. and its European partners never finished the job.

Mr. VOLKER: We ought to finish the job. There's actually hope here for several million people to be part of Europe's mainstream, to live in democratic societies, to have prosperity, to know that their future is going to be secure rather than the ravages of the past. So to get that engine going again is really, I think, the heart of her trip.

KELEMEN: Secretary Clinton met recently with the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton to talk about the goals of this trip. The U.S. wants to keep the region focused on the future, to encourage Bosnia to pass needed reforms to join the European Union and to get Serbia focused on the same thing and back into talks with the newly independent Kosovo. She's making a point of meeting with ethnic Serbs in Kosovo.

Ms. HILLARY CLINTON (U.S. Secretary of State): It's important that we keep the goal of that future in the minds of both Serbs and Kosovars, because there are difficult issues that they will have to resolve. The European Union and the United States stand ready to assist and facilitate, to support and cajole, that the parties do reach these agreements with each other. But ultimately, it is up to the leaders and the people that will have to come to a decision about their future.

KELEMEN: But Clinton will have her work cut out for her, because the EU is reluctant now to take in new members. When it comes to the Balkans, Daniel Serwer of the United States Institute of Peace predicts the EU will open its doors to Croatia, which is far along in the process, and then slam the door.

Mr. DANIEL SERWER (United States Institute of Peace): It's very unclear when that door will open again. But my message to people in the Balkans is: you're right, you're not certain that door is going to be open, but you damn well better be ready when that door opens to go in quickly. So the best revenge is to govern well and get ready for the European Union.

KELEMEN: He's hoping Secretary Clinton will carry with her a very strong message to Serbia to forget about trying to partition Kosovo or supporting Serb separatists in Bosnia. And he says Bosnia has to get serious about changing the constitution which the U.S. helped draft to end the war there.

Mr. SERWER: At Dayton, we gave to Bosnia, constitution which favored the nationalist parties that had fought the war, and it's very difficult to get them to agree on anything. That's the rut Bosnia is in.

KELEMEN: Bosnia just held elections so Clinton will have lots of politicians to meet as she weighs into a complicated political scene. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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