Macedonian FM discusses NATO aspirations, regional issues
On February 6, GMF hosted Antonio Milososki, the minister of foreign affairs of the Republic of Macedonia, and Kurt D. Volker, principal deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs, for a discussion on the status of Macedonia's negotiations for NATO accession and EU membership, as well as regional issues.
In opening remarks, Minister Milososki stated that NATO membership is not just a privilege but a responsibility, and that Macedonia is ready and prepared to contribute to the alliance. He highlighted Macedonia's participation in peacekeeping missions abroad, including ISAF, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Althea, the European Union's (EU) operation in Bosnia & Herzegovina.The Minister added that another example of Macedonia's commitment to transatlantic cooperation is the very high public support in Macedonia to join NATO and the EU.
Pointing to Macedonia's peacekeeping role in Southeastern Europe, including its current responsibility as the host country for NATO Headquarters in Kosovo, Minister Milososki said that Macedonia's membership in NATO and the EU has both an internal impact on Macedonia and a regional impact on the Balkans. He added that Macedonia prefers final status for Kosovo rather than the status quo for Kosovo.
Mr. Volker, who was recently nominated by the White House to be the U.S. Permanent Representative to NATO, recalled the last several rounds of NATO enlargement that have helped strengthen democracy and well-being throughout Europe. After NATO enlargement, NATO is a "better, stronger alliance." He cautioned, however, that the process of building a Europe "whole, free, and at peace" is not done. One of the remaining critical pieces is resolving the final status of Kosovo, which will help stabilize Southeastern Europe.
The three countries currently participating in NATO's Membership Action Plan (MAP) are Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia. According to Volker, the U.S. strongly supports all three countries' aspirations to join NATO at the Bucharest Summit, adding, "We want to see these countries succeed." Volker added that the responsibility to qualify for NATO membership lies with each country. On Macedonia, he said that while work remains to be done there, Macedonia has moved from being a "security consumer" to a "security producer." For example, it is currently spending 2 percent on defense, which is more than some of the current NATO allies.
As the Balkans continue to move toward transatlantic integration, Minister Milososki stressed that the real challenge for the region will come after final status is achieved in Kosovo. He said that the United States has helped to improve conditions in the Balkans and should remain engaged. He also suggested that the EU should offer a unified strategy toward Kosovo, and that it will be imperative for the international community to stay engaged in Kosovo after final status is achieved. The Minister said that Macedonia would be pleased to have one responsible actor based in Pristina.
One of the most consuming issues Macedonia continues to grapple with is the lack of resolution on its name. The U.S. officially recognizes Macedonia's constitutional name, the "Republic of Macedonia," which is unacceptable to Greece for historic and sentimental reasons. While the day-to-day relationship between Macedonia and Greece is very good, the Minister said, the name issue alone should not be an obstacle to Macedonia's NATO and EU membership, but could stand in the way unless it is resolved.
Summing up the year ahead, Minister Milososki said that 2008 could be a "historic" year for the Balkans that hopefully includes a resolution of Kosovo's final status and moving forward on NATO and EU membership for aspirant Balkan countries.