Croatian Foreign Minister Miro Kovac and his Bosnian counterpart, Igor Crnadak, announced in Sarajevo on Friday the strengthening of bilateral relations and Croatia's support to Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH) on its path to European integration.

Croatia's newly appointed minister chose BiH as his first destination abroad, saying this was a clear indicator of the new Croatian government's commitment to mending relations with the neighbours.

"We decided at the Croatian government to improve relations with Croatia's neighbours. We want the state of affairs we encountered to be better after our term, and BiH comes first. We wish to show that there is a continuity to Croatia's foreign policy towards BiH as a stable and functioning state in which all three nations live as equals," Kovac told reporters after meeting with Crnadak.

He said that Croatia, as a signatory to the Dayton peace agreement, had a special responsibility towards BiH and that it wanted to actively support its European Union membership candidacy. BiH authorities are expected to submit an application for membership candidate status in Brussels on February 15.

Kovac said Croatia would take concrete measures immediately after that to help BiH handle the technical tasks. "During Minister Crnadak's visit to Zagreb, we will try to sign an agreement on European partnership to provide a framework for supporting BiH in the first steps after submitting the application," he said, adding that there would be a lot of work for BiH after applying for the candidacy.

Kovac recalled that BiH was Croatia's fourth main trade partner and that Croatia wanted to intensify the cooperation. He announced numerous visits to BiH during the year, saying the Croatian government was interested in stronger relations with the BiH Council of Ministers.

Asked what stance Croatia's new government would take towards BiH's functioning, he said the wish was to ensure the full equality of the Croat people in agreement with the others, but that there would be no change to Croatia's approach towards BiH. "We wish the Croat people to be equal and to find, in dialogue with Bosniaks and Serbs, a solution to the functioning of the state. We will support all nations to find a solution that they will agree on."

Crnadak said it was very important to the BiH authorities that Croatia's new foreign minister chose BiH for his first trip abroad. He said it was "an act which represents a very strong message of support to BiH on its European path and to agreement between the three nations and two entities. We agreed as next-door neighbours to strengthen bilateral cooperation."

Crnadak said the relations had been excellent so far but that they wanted more and better. He thanked Croatia for supporting BiH on its European path. "We are now taking the path that Croatia took not long ago and there are many things from that which can be of use to us."

The two ministers said that all outstanding issues would be dealt with at the appropriate levels.

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