Matthew Palmer: Hardline rhetoric does not lead to compromise in Bosnia

Matthew Palmer: Hardline rhetoric does not lead to compromise in Bosnia

Matthew Palmer: Hardline rhetoric does not lead to compromise in Bosnia Izvor: Fena

The US welcomes an agreement Bosnia’s political leaders signed in an effort to finally break the deadlock in forming the government, State Department representative Matthew Palmer told Voice of America, adding that Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik should stop his “hardline rhetoric” which creates a negative political climate.

Deputy Assistant Secretary in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, Matthew Palmer, said that Dodik should realise that his “hardline” rhetoric does not contribute to the negotiation process about forming Bosnia’s government.  

Palmer said it is important that Bosnia submits its Annual National Programme (ANP), a step on the path toward NATO membership, to the alliance's headquarters in Brussels.  

The ANP and Bosnia’s path toward NATO membership have been at the centre of the political bickering which prevented the forming of the government - in Bosnia officially called the Council of Ministers - from being formed since the October 2018 election.  

The Bosniak and Croat members of the Presidency said that unless the candidate for prime minister, who is supposed to come from the ranks of the Bosnian Serb Alliance for Independent Social Democrats (SNSD), is prepared to fulfill obligations Bosnia took over years ago regarding NATO, they will not support him taking over the post.  

Dodik and his candidate are vehemently against the country’s NATO membership.  

In order to break the deadlock, the three leaders of the ruling parties which won the election, SNSD’s Milorad Dodik, Bosniak Bakir Izetbegovic from the Party for Democratic Action (SDA) and Croat Dragan Covic from the Croat Democratic Union (HDZ BiH), signed an agreement last week.

It includes 12 principles according to which the new government is to be formed, and NATO is mentioned in one of them but very vaguely.   Officials have since then been asking whether Bosnia is going to send its Annual National Programme (ANP) and take the next step toward NATO membership or not.  

“We believe it is a positive development that the leaders of three big parties gathered and determined compromise to be the way forward regarding the European Union, NATO and forming the government,” Palmer said.  

“We understand that there are discussions on how that agreement will be implemented. We understand especially that Presidency members (Zeljko) Komsic and (Sefik) Dzaferovic have clearly noted that they want an agreement on submitting the Annual National Programme (ANP) to NATO as part of the agreement on forming the government. We support their right to that,” he said, adding that the US hopes the Presidency will meet and agree on a path forward which suits all.  

The Presidency has scheduled a session on the matter for next Tuesday, but Dodik said the ANP will not be sent to Brussels. On the other hand, the Croat Presidency member, Zeljko Komsic, said there will be no agreement on forming the government if the document is not sent.  

Palmer said that “this is politics.”  

“What is important in politics is that people define their positions, express them and then negotiate on a compromise on the path forward,” he said, arguing that this is essential for Bosnia.  

“There is an agreed-upon policy at the state-level which supports both the path toward the EU and NATO. We don’t believe those two paths are in any way contradictory, to the contrary. They complement each other,” he said.  

He explained that the reforms which are part of the NATO process would essentially support reforms which Bosnia needs in order to get closer to EU membership.  

A possibility which has since recently often been mentioned is that Bosnia could send a modified ANP, and Palmer said that is fully up to the country.  

“It is the state which decides on the speed and scope of its engagement with NATO as an institution,” he said, arguing that it is important for the document to be submitted at all, so Bosnia can be NATO’s partner in promoting reforms in the defence and security sector.  

“NATO brings a lot and can help Bosnia and Herzegovina strengthen its capabilities in these very important sectors. We believe that those reforms will make progress toward EU membership easier,” he said.  

Dodik recently said that, should the government not be formed within 30 days as per the agreement, the Serb-dominated semi-autonomous entity of Republika Srpska (RS) will declare any decisions so far made which are not strictly in accordance with the 1995 Constitution invalid.  

This would mean that the RS would dispute the post-war forming of the state-level judiciary, armed forces, police agency and other institutions not set up in the Dayton Agreement.  

“I do not think that such threats will really help in creating a political climate which leads to compromise and agreement,” he said, adding that he hopes Dodik will abandon “such hardline rhetoric.”  

“I think that it is essentially useless and that it creates a political climate in which you have winners and losers, not chances for everyone to get part of what they want and be in positions to accept that they have achieved something,” he said.

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