A decade after the Dayton accords ended the Bosnian conflict, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice next week plans to prod Bosnian leaders to join together to reject a patchwork of regional governments and ministries that helped end the war but kept the country divided along religious and ethnic lines.
Rice will use a lavish 10th anniversary celebration of the peace deal in Washington to endorse an effort by the country's Serb, Croat and Muslim political leaders to move beyond the terms of the agreement so Bosnia can begin to enter European institutions, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said. "They need to build a normal state," with a single president and prime minister, Burns said.
Bosnia currently has a weak central government, with three presidents and 14 education departments. Other ministries are also divided, though an effort is underway to create a single military and a unified police force. An international official known as a high representative still holds great sway in the fractured state.
European leaders have warned Bosnia that it has little hope of ever joining the European Union as long as it retains its current constitution. Earlier this year, a European advisory group known as the Venice Commission recommended drastic reforms of a political system it labeled "neither rational nor efficient and not even sustainable." Since then, significant strides have been made to overhaul the constitution, but key issues regarding the presidency and the parliament remain unresolved.
"I think they are 50 percent there," said Donald S. Hays, a State Department official assigned to the U.S. Institute of Peace, who is advising Bosnian political leaders on rewriting the constitution.
Rice will preside over a signing ceremony Tuesday in which Bosnian political leaders will commit to an emerging consensus package and to getting a deal approved in parliament. By law, any changes to the constitution must be approved 170 days before the next election. A vote is scheduled for October 2006, meaning there's little time left to act.
As an added incentive, European and U.S. officials have told the Bosnians that the position of high representative will soon be phased out, Hays said.
Rice's involvement signifies that the Bush administration is determined to resolve the outstanding issues of the Balkan conflict, Burns said. "The aim is to put the weight of the United States in trying to overcome the last remaining hurdles in the Balkans," which he said include pressing for negotiations to resolve the status of Kosovo and capturing the most prominent war criminals associated with the breakup of Yugoslavia.
Burns is a career Foreign Service officer who was State Department spokesman when the Dayton agreement was reached during the second Clinton administration. He said that the "hodgepodge" of government institutions created by the accord was necessary at the time but that now it is essential to move beyond that structure because the country "cannot continue to exist for 25 years with these internal divisions."
In a bipartisan spirit, Rice has invited the key Clinton administration officials involved in negotiating the peace deal to attend a luncheon celebrating the anniversary. "It's very important that the administration has finally, if belatedly, turned back to the Balkans," said Richard C. Holbrooke, the chief negotiator of the accord. He said Rice's involvement signals "the reengagement of the United States in an essential issue in the heart of Europe."