SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Bosnia meets the military conditions needed to take the next step toward its eventual goal of NATO membership but it remains unclear whether it can satisfy the political requirements, the head of the alliance's military committee said on Tuesday.
Bosnia wants to activate its Membership Action Plan (MAP), a formal step toward joining NATO, but must first complete full registration of all military assets in its two constituent, ethnically-based regions, the Bosniak-Croat Federation and the Serb Republic.
Complicating Bosnia's membership drive is the stance of the Serb Republic, which remains wary of a military alliance that bombed Serbs in Bosnia and Kosovo in 1995 and 1999. The Serb Republic has said it would hold a referendum on joining NATO.
The Bosnian Serbs have opposed registering their region's military assets to the country's weak central government in Sarajevo.
However, the head of NATO's military committee praised Bosnia's progress at the military level.
"Our recommendation when it comes to the level of interoperability, the level of effort your armed forces are putting into reform, will be positive," said Petr Pavel, a Czech army general.
But he stressed that the decision to give Bosnia the green light on activating MAP would be a political one.
Dragan Covic, the chairman of Bosnia's tripartite presidency, has voiced optimism that NATO foreign ministers could decide to activate the country's MAP at a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 5-6.
Participation in MAP is not in itself a guarantee of eventual NATO membership.
Pavel said NATO had a strong interest in Balkan stability and cited various threats he said faced all of Europe, including a resurgent Russia, illegal migration and terrorism.
Bosnia's inter-ethnic presidency, its central government in Sarajevo and the Bosniak-Croat Federation have long said joining NATO and the European Union are strategic priorities.
But the Bosnian Serbs lean toward closer ties with Russia, aligning their policy with that of wartime patron and ally Serbia where NATO remains hugely unpopular after its 1999 bombing campaign to drive Serbian forces out of Kosovo and after 1995 NATO air strikes against rebel Serbs in Bosnia.
(Reporting by Maja Zuvela; editing by Daria Sito-Sucic and Gareth Jones)