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Clinton heads for Algeria, Balkans

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet Algeria's president to discuss political crisis in Mali ahead of visiting Balkans for US-EU talks

AFP , Sunday 28 Oct 2012
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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks at the Clinton Global Initiative in New York, September 24, 2012 (Photo: AP)
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US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will leave Washington Sunday to travel to Algeria, for discussions on the Mali crisis, before joining EU diplomatic chief Catherine Ashton in the Balkans.

The State Department said Clinton will meet Tuesday with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria, which shares a long border with Mali where extremists and rebel groups have taken over large swathes of the country's north after a coup in March.

Mauritania and Algeria have called for dialogue in a bid to reach a political solution to the crisis, after ruling out sending troops to Mali to battle extremist militia.

The common influence among the fundamentalist armed groups ruling northern Mali is Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which originated in Algeria and is active in regional countries including Mauritania.

The UN Security Council approved a resolution on October 12 that presses West African nations to speed up preparations for an international military intervention aimed at reconquering northern Mali with a force that could eventually total 3,000 troops.

France and the United States have said they stand ready to provide logistical support.

From Algeria, Clinton will head to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Kosovo "to demonstrate the enduring US interest, commitment and support for (the Balkans') future in the European and Euro-Atlantic community," the State Department said in a statement.

 

The top US diplomat, who last traveled in October 2010 to the three countries that emerged from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia and Serbia, will be joined by Ashton, the European Union's foreign policy chief.

In Sarajevo, Clinton and Ashton "will underline the urgent need for party leaders to serve the interests of the people of Bosnia and Herzegovina and accomplish necessary reforms, and will stress the immutability of the international community's commitment to the Dayton Peace Accords," the statement added.

The Dayton Accords, reached in 1995 under the auspices of the United States, ended the war in Bosnia.

In Belgrade and Pristina, Clinton and Ashton will "reiterate US-EU resolve for Serbia and Kosovo to build on previous agreements and advance their dialogue, as well as to encourage concrete steps that will allow those countries to progress on their respective paths to EU membership," the State Department said.

Earlier this month, Ashton held talks in Brussels with Serbian Prime Minister Dacic and Kosovo Premier Thaci together for the first time, an EU source said.

EU-facilitated talks aimed at easing strain in the western Balkans began early in the year but at a lower level.

Serbia rejects Kosovo's unilateral 2008 proclamation of independence, which is recognized by some 90 states including 22 of the EU's 27 members and the United States.

The talks so far have yielded several agreements aimed at ending daily headaches for citizens on both sides, such as mutual recognition of university degrees or returning property records.

However, the talks were halted after Serbia held elections in May, and Brussels has been stepping up the pressure for them to be resumed.

Serbia is an EU candidate member, and Kosovo hopes to formalize ties, but the bloc has made clear to both that they must re-enter the talks and show concrete results.

A senior state department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Clinton and Ashton will reiterate the common resolve of the United States and European Union to advance dialogue between Serbvia and Kosovo "and to encourage the concrete steps that will allow them both to respectively move towards European Union membership."

Serbian Foreign Minister Ivan Mrkic was optimistic about the upcoming talks, saying Belgrade expected that they "will further strengthen and speed up Serbia's path towards EU membership."

Kosovo Deputy Prime Minister Hajredin Kuci said Clinton's visit will have a special meaning for the republic.

"Here, the Clintons are identified with the freedom of Kosovo," he said, referring to the secretary and her husband, former US president Bill Clinton.

Clinton will end her tour in Croatia and Albania, which joined the NATO transatlantic military alliance in 2009.

Of the six former Yugoslavian republics, only Slovenia has joined the EU, in 2004. Croatia is set to join in July.

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