General Mladic is the top fugitive wanted by the United Nation’s war crimes tribunal where he faces genocide charges over the 1995 deaths of more than 7,000 Muslims at Srebrenica.
The public screening last week of a video apparently showing the execution of Muslim civilians at the hands of Serbian paramilitaries in 1995 shocked many Serbs.
Failure to capture him has long blighted Belgrade’s ties with the West. Unhappy with a lack of cooperation with the war crimes tribunal, Washington had frozen financial and technical links with Belgrade.
But after talks with senior Serbian government officials, Washington says it’s seen a change in attitude in the country.
“My strong impression from my discussions in Belgrade is that the government is working very seriously to find General Mladic and there will be a sincere attempt to capture him or to have him voluntarily surrender and to send him to The Hague,” US Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said.
“We are confident that his days in relative freedom are numbered,” he added.
In a highly symbolic move, he also announced US$10m (A$13m) in aid to Serbia and Montenegro.
Mr Burns said further improved relations with the US depended heavily on the arrest and extradition of Mladic.
“If Ratko Mladic is sent to The Hague and put on trial for war crimes… then the future is limitless for what two countries can do together,” he said.
The Serbian government has denied media reports it was negotiating Mladic’s surrender via go-betweens, including members of Russian intelligence.
The daily Kurir quoted government sources as saying Mladic was demanding to serve any sentence in Russia – a traditional ally of the Serbs – and seeking guarantees for his bodyguards.
A Serbian government spokesman said reports of secret talks with Mladic were “untrue from the first word to the last.”
However speculation remains that Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica wants to hand him over soon as the traumatic 10th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre nears.
“While there is no deadline,” Mr Burns said, “I cannot imagine a more appropriate initiative than seeing General Mladic in The Hague before July 11.”