Hillary Clinton hopes that political reforms in the Balkans will lead to EU and Nato memberships [AFP]

The US Secretary of State has begun a tour of the Balkans to press for political reforms, hoping that the changes will lead to the region’s full integration into the European Union and Nato.

Hillary Clinton arrived in Bosnia on Monday night to urge the country’s new leadership to make membership in the European Union (EU) a priority.

She is expected to meet Bosnia’s three-member presidency in the capital Sarajevo on Tuesday to push for constitutional and other changes deemed necessary for EU membership.

Clinton’s visit comes just over a week after general elections, which showed deep divisions among the country's main ethnic groups.

“We've been quite clear that we believe that further reforms are necessary,” said Philip Gordon, the top US diplomat for Europe.

“The Bosnians need to follow up,” he said. “The rest of the region is moving towards Europe, and Bosnia is going to have to overcome these ethnic divisions ... if they want to go down this path.”

Membership campaign

Gordon said Clinton “will underscore to the parties the need to move forward with the types of reforms that will strengthen their candidacies for the European Union membership and Nato membership”.

Gordon cited a provision in the constitution that prohibits anyone other than Bosniaks, Serbs or Croats from being president, a limitation that excludes Jews, Roma or other minorities from elected leadership positions.

Clinton's stop in Bosnia is the first by a sitting US secretary of state since 2004, and her first to the country since 1996, when she travelled as first lady after a peace accord ended the war.

After Bosnia, she plans to travel to Serbia and its now-independent former province of Kosovo to encourage the bitterly divided sides to normalise relations.

Kosovo, which declared independence from Serbia in 2008, is still not recognised by its former ruler and a number of European countries.

Both Serbia and Kosovo are not EU members.

From Kosovo, Clinton plans to bring her message to EU headquarters in Brussels, where she is expected to attend Nato meetings on Thursday together with Robert Gates, the US defence secretary.

Nato will be discussing European security, the situation in Afghanistan and prepare for a November summit of alliance leaders in Portugal.

Source: Agencies