Stoltenberg: Name dispute settlement crucial for Macedonia’s NATO membership, no plan ‘B’

The Alliance has no plan ‘B’ for Macedonia’s NATO accession, hence the name dispute must be settled, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

‘Agreement on this issue is crucial for your country to join NATO. There is no other way for your country to join NATO. This was also notified at the 2008 Bucharest Summit and reiterated at subsequent ones in 2014 in Wales and Warsaw in 2016,’ Stoltenberg said, commending the efforts being made to find a solution to the name issue.

He also commended Macedonia’s progress in implementing the important reforms: good governance; strengthening the rule of law; building an open, multi-ethnic society; and good neighborly relationships.

‘I know your country faces challenges. and reform is not easy, but it can be done. So I urge all parties to work constructively in the interests of all your people. And I urge the government to reach out constructively to the opposition and vice versa. These reforms are essential. I encourage you to continue on the path of reform. We want you to succeed. Joining the NATO Alliance requires hard work and commitment. But NATO’s door remains open,’ Stoltenberg said.

For more than two decades, he said, NATO has invested in the security and stability of the Western Balkans, ‘and the region has made significant progress since the 1990s’.

‘We support your Euro-Atlantic aspirations, because we want to see your country at the heart of a stable, democratic and prosperous region,’ Stoltenberg said.

The NATO Secretary General’s visit is a gesture of vital encouragement and support of Macedonia’s expectations for 2018 to be a historic one for the country, the region, the EU and NATO, PM Zaev said.

‘I am more than pleased with the restored NATO interest in the Western Balkans in a rather significant and sensitive geo-strategic moment. It is a high time for the integration processes of all countries in the region wishing to join the North-Atlantic Alliance to enter the final phase. We are ready to work together to that end,’ Zaev said.

Reaffirming the vast public support of Macedonia’s accession to the EU and NATO, Zaev notified the government’s efforts to create conditions for national consensus on the matter with all political stakeholders.

‘We expect for Macedonia to become the 30th NATO member. We have been working to that end along with the citizens and all our partners – NATO member countries, as that is the perspective of the citizens of Macedonia’s and the region,’ Zaev said.

Asked about the developments in the region, Stoltenberg and Zaev strongly condemned the murder of Kosovo Serbs leader Oliver Ivanovic and expressed belief that the culprits would be brought to justice. They agreed that the situation in the region remained stable.

NATO remains committed to the region’s stability, Stoltenberg said, notifying the Alliance’s contribution to putting an end to the ethnic conflicts in Bosnia/Herzegovina and Kosovo.

‘We are still present in Kosovo – KFOR; Sarajevo, Skopje… Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro and Albania are NATO members. NATO is present in the region,’ Stoltenberg said.

‘The Balkan region is no longer the powder keg. It is now sending messages of friendship across the globe,’ Zaev said.

During his two-day visit to Macedonia, Stoltenberg held talks the country’s top officials and political party leaders.