New US envoy for the Western Balkans Gabriel Escobar said that sanctions for widely spread corruption in Bosnia and Herzegovina will be “very aggressively” used, adding that the Western Balkans' integration in the European Union will be one of the top priorities in his work.
Escobar took over the post from Matthew Palmer who was recently appointed the US special envoy for electoral reform in BiH.
In an interview with ‘Voice of America’, Escobar said that the US has been actively investing in BiH since the end of the war, adding that the interest has never ceased to exist and that Palmer's new role proves the continuous commitment of the US to the region.
Commenting on the issue of corruption in BiH, Escobar said that US President Joe Biden announced a new set of sanctions, particularly for corruption. “We plan to use those powers very aggressively,” he was quoted as saying.
Asked if he would meet Serb member of Bosnia's tripartite Presidency Milorad Dodik, who has been on the sanction list of the US Office of Foreign Asset Control since 2017, and what would be his message for Dodik, Escobar replied that he first needs to decide if he would meet Dodik at all.
As for priorities for the Western Balkans, the new envoy said there are two major issues.
Firstly, it is the Western Balkan's integration into the European Union. He said that tremendous progress has been made and that the countries in the region are historically, culturally and economically already a part of Europe.
“They share the same values and have common interests with the rest of Europe. This will be a priority. Besides that, offering NATO membership to those who are interested. That will, apparently, require close cooperation with our partners, the Quint countries, most of whom share similar views. But from our point of view, this should be a process that is dynamic and active. I would like to see dynamic in that process,” Escobar was quoted as saying.
He said that the Western Balkans is a region with many opportunities, with great universities, qualified individuals but unfortunately many of them see no opportunity in their countries and are leaving, which will become “a strategic problem not only for the Balkan countries but also for Europe and the USA.”
In theory, he added, this can be a group of six economically connected countries, with more than 20 million people, about 125 million dollars gross national income and a growth rate of 5 percent, which would make it the fastest growing region in the whole Europe.