Joint press point
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Zoran Zaev, Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹
Prime Minister Zaev, my friend Zoran,
It is really great to see you again after your visit last year to Brussels. Then it’s great to be here in Skopje, this is my first visit and I thank you for hosting me and my delegation. It has been an excellent visit where we have had very fruitful and constructive discussions, addressing many important issues, but especially addressing the future of your country and your ambitions to join the Alliance.
It was also a great privilege for me to address the parliament today.
Especially after last year’s dramatic events last year.
Since then, since the dramatic events last year, your country has made
significant efforts, and significant progress,
towards long-term political stability.
And I commend you for your leadership and determination under difficult circumstances.
And for your strong commitment to bring about positive change.
NATO will continue to support your country’s efforts.
Let me also thank you for continuing contributions to NATO’s training mission in Afghanistan.
And for the increase in troops numbers you have announced.
This is a clear sign of your commitment to international security. And we are grateful for your strong commitment to NATO and to our international operations.
Prime Minister, we have just had excellent and very constructive discussions about your country’s future.
I commend the efforts being made to find a solution to the name issue.
The discussions show the value of dialogue.
Agreement on this issue is crucial for your country to join NATO.
The reforms you are working on are also important:
- Good governance;
- Strengthening the rule of law;
- Building an open, multi-ethnic society;
- And good neighbourly 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.
Last year we welcomed Montenegro into the NATO family, our 29th member.
For more than two decades, 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.
Prime Minister, once again I commend you for your efforts, and I look forward to continuing our work together.
To support your democratic reforms and your country’s efforts to join NATO.
MODERATOR - We have ten minutes for the journalists’ questions; we will start with the gentleman behind, and please tell to whom you refer the question.
QUESTION – I would like to ask you if we don’t have any kind of progress in the negotiations concerning the name issue, can you exclude that your country could be a member of NATO with a temporary name?
JENS STOLTENBERG – I can exclude that. There is no other way to join NATO without solving the name issue, and that has clearly been stated several times. It was first stated at the summit in 2008 in Bucharest—I was there as the Norwegian prime minister. Then it was reiterated at our NATO summit in Wales in 2014 and once again at the NATO summit in Warsaw in 2016. So there is no Plan B, no other way of joining NATO than solving the name issue.
But Allies have agreed that NATO will invite your country to join the Alliance once a mutual acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached within the framework of the UN. And therefore we support the efforts to find a solution. We welcome the momentum we see. We welcome the fact that there is a willingness both in Skopje and in Athens to try to find a solution, and we also welcome the strong focus on the reforms. And Allies will also consider and look into the reforms because rule of law, good governance, freedom of media are core values for the Alliance. Our Washington Treaty is based on some core values: democracy, rule of law and individual liberty.
QUESTION – Can you give us a brief assessment of the military-political security situation in the region, if we take into consideration the latest developments in Kosovo, if we take into consideration the US announcement about the possible terrorist attacks, et cetera? The question is for both speakers.
ZORAN ZAEV – I personally believe that the region is stable. We of course condemn the events in Kosovo. Our region is not [inaudible]. Our region is building friendship, and our messages of friendship reach everybody. And I am convinced that we will continue along this path of building friendship because the stability of the region is of key importance. I am in contact with the political leadership of the country, in the region, and all countries in the region are investing maximum efforts, you know, that we accelerate our Euro-Atlantic integration, to enhance regional cooperation, to enhance the trust of our citizens, of our businesspersons to invest in the regional countries, and I’m confident that this isolated incident will not bring permanent consequences for the perspectives of the region. I hope that those responsible will be brought to justice, and that we will prevent impunity.
JENS STOLTENBERG – NATO remains fully committed to the stability of this region, and NATO has been actively involved in efforts to keep this region stable and to prevent wars. We have to remember that after the end of the Cold War, NATO helped to end two ethnic conflicts in this region, in Bosnia-Herzegovina and in Kosovo-Serbia, and we also actually had troops and operations here in this nation in 2001 and 2002.
So NATO has played, historically, an important role in stabilising the whole region. We still have presence in Kosovo. We have our KFOR Force in Kosovo. We have presence in Sarajevo. We have presence in Skopje. And we have several members in the region—Croatia and Slovenia—but we also have Montenegro as our newest member, together with Albania, which been a member for some years.
So NATO is present in the region, and we continue to work with our partners in the region, with aspirant countries in the region, to continue to stabilise this region.
And we are inspired by the progress we’ve seen in this country, because you are making progress. You are making progress on the reforms. You have been able to turn away from the political crisis you faced last year. And now we have created stability. You are moving in the right direction, and you are implementing reforms which are highly recognised and valued by all NATO Allies. So we have really turned a corner and you are moving in the right direction; that encourages us.
Then, of course, there are also developments, and some aspects with the situation in this region which give reasons for concern. We continue to be present with a significant military force in Kosovo, with the KFOR Force there. And of course the killing of Oliver Ivanovic was really something that was an example of that the situation in Kosovo is not yet where we would like it to be.
And therefore NATO strongly condemns the killing of Mr Ivanovic. We think it is extremely important that those responsible for the killing are held accountable and that both parties show calm and restraint. And NATO will continue to stay there with our KFOR Force to protect all the people of Kosovo. So NATO is there, in this region. We work with our partners, we have members to help to continue to stabilise this region.
QUESTION – I have a question for Mr Stoltenberg. You said there is no Plan B for accession of Macedonia to NATO unless the name issue is resolved. However, the situation, in geopolitical, geo-strategic terms has changed as of the NATO summit in 2008, and you yourself have emphasised the role of Russia and its expansionist policy. For example, Moscow directly intervened in Montenegro, and Moscow has openly stated its objection to Macedonia becoming a member of NATO. You, as the Secretary General of NATO cannot adopt such a decision, but do you think that perhaps the member states could revise their strategy for entry of Macedonia into NATO? Because our country has done everything possible in order to become part of NATO.
JENS STOLTENBERG – No, I don’t think so. And I think it is important to be honest with you because I think it is important to be ambitious, and I am encouraged by the determination, by the strong efforts of your country to move towards membership and you are really making a lot of progress, and that is encouraging, and I commend you for that. At the same time it is important to be realistic, and therefore it is important to recognise and to see that NATO is an alliance which bases all its decisions on consensus, meaning that as long as one nation blocks a decision, there will be no decision. And therefore I think it will only make your efforts more difficult and less likely that you will be able to join if you base your efforts on a false assumption that it’s possible to join NATO without solving the name issue. That has been clearly stated by the Alliance again and again.
I really hope that you are able to solve the name issue. I really welcome the renewed momentum, the renewed efforts. And of course it is necessary to seek flexibility and to have a pragmatic approach. It’s not for NATO to solve the name issue. This is an effort by this nation and Greece and it is a UN-led or UN-facilitated process. So NATO will not go into the concrete proposals, the concrete ways to solve the name issue, but I think you will only postpone and reduce the possibilities of joining if you think there is a Plan B, because there is no Plan B.
MODERATOR – The last question.
QUESTION – My question is for the Secretary General. Mr Stoltenberg, why does NATO ignore the decision of the Hague tribunal, of the Hague court. Ignoring this ruling of the international court, isn’t that a violation of international law?
JENS STOLTENBERG – This is a ruling by a court, but this is a political decision. And of course a political Alliance as NATO has as mandate the possibility to make political decisions we want to make as an Alliance. And as I said, NATO is based on consensus, so to change a decision, to make a new decision requires the agreement, it requires the unanimous support from all Allies. And I think I would not be honest with you if I indicated that it was a possibility to circumvent or to avoid the name issue. The ruling in The Hague is a legal ruling, but this is at the end of the day a political issue which has a political decision made by NATO at several summits. And again, we are 29 Allies. The good thing is that all Allies have the same rights, the same responsibilities to have a seat at the table. But it requires that all Allies also agree. And therefore I think it will be wrong to indicate that there is any possibility to move towards membership without solving the name issue.
MODERATOR – Thus we conclude the press conference. Thank you, all.