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BRUSSELS – Bosnia-Herzegovina is likely to take a major step this week in its ambition to join NATO, the military alliance's secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, said Monday.
NATO foreign ministers are expected Wednesday to activate Bosnia's Membership Action Plan, a reform process that prepares countries for membership. Even though the route to future membership would become clearer for Bosnia, the Balkan country is unlikely to join NATO soon.
Stoltenberg said that he expects the ministers, meeting in Brussels, to signal that "we are ready to receive the first annual national program" from the ethnically-divided country, which was riven by war in the 1990s when the former Yugoslavia broke apart.
"Then it's up to Bosnia-Herzegovina to decide whether they use this opportunity," Stoltenberg added.
The anticipated move comes eight years after NATO offered a MAP to Bosnia. However, it declined to "activate" it until all conditions were met with the process held up over the registration of defense property like military barracks and buildings used by the defense ministry. Registration is meant to be made at national level, but one of the three entities that make up modern Bosnia — the ethnic Serb Republika Srpska backed by Belgrade — refuses outright to do so.
Rather than allow the Bosnian Serbs to have a de-facto veto over the membership action plan, NATO allies have decided to move forward regardless, even though the property must still be registered at federal level for the MAP process to conclude.
They also see it as a sign of support in the wake of the Oct. 7 general election, which led to nationalist politicians dominating Bosnia's three-member presidency; an institution which wields little formal power but that is meant to help heal ethnic wounds.
Bosnian Croat Zeljko Komsic said after his inauguration that Bosnia should join NATO, while pro-Russian Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik insisted that the country should remain neutral.