Joint press point
by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the President of North Macedonia, Stevo Pendarovski
NATO SECRETARY GENERAL:
So, President Pendarovski, dear Stevo, welcome to NATO, it’s great to see you again.
Last month, we marked the first anniversary of North Macedonia’s accession to NATO.
Your membership in the Alliance is a significant achievement. It is good for the people of your country, good for the region and good for transatlantic security.
Over the past year, North Macedonia has proven a reliable security provider and a valued Ally.
Your troops have contributed to NATO’s peacekeeping mission in Kosovo, and to our training missions in Iraq and in Afghanistan.
I also welcome that you have increased defence spending, with a clear plan to invest 2 percent of GDP in defence by 2024.
North Macedonia is also showing leadership and engagement in other areas, including by hosting an important civil preparedness exercise later this year and by donating to NATO’s Pandemic Response Trust Fund, which supports Allies in need.
Just as North Macedonia stands with NATO, NATO stands with North Macedonia.
Over the past year, Allies have helped your country respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering financial assistance, ventilators, a field hospital, and other medical supplies.
This is NATO solidarity in action.
We just had an excellent meeting about the current security challenges and our preparations for the NATO Summit in June.
Together, we will set a positive and forward-looking agenda for the future of our Alliance, through the NATO 2030 initiative.
We must reinforce our unity, broaden our approach to security and safeguard the rules-based international order together.
This is important at a time when we see threats and challenges from many directions.
Russia continues its pattern of aggressive actions, including its ongoing violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
We continue to face the threat of international terrorism.
And China’s rise presents opportunities, but also poses challenges for our shared security.
No country, or continent, is big enough to deal with these issues alone. But together, NATO makes up half of the world’s economic might and half of the world’s military might.
And together, we can keep our people safe.
So, President Pendarovski, thank you again for being here today.
I look forward to continuing our work together, as we look to the NATO Summit, so once again, welcome.
PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF NORTH MACEDONIA:
Mr. Secretary General, dear friends,
This my first visit to NATO as President of the Republic of North Macedonia.
Recently on March 27th, we marked the first anniversary of our NATO membership. It took us many years, and we made some very difficult decisions, but we were persistent in achieving our strategic goal.
We do believe that NATO membership is very important for maintaining the security and stability, as a prerequisite, for prosperity and strengthening the democratic institutions. And I would like to personally thank you, Mr. Secretary General, for your important role and engagement in the successful completion of this process.
Our membership coincided with the outburst of the pandemia and the early months of this global crisis.
The Macedonian citizens experienced the importance of NATO solidarity, as we received valuable backing from member states, as well as from the Organization itself. I would like to use this opportunity, and on behalf of our people to, once again, express our gratitude for this much needed help, extended in a very difficult period for everyone.
The pandemic is of course only one of the challenges on the horizon. As a NATO member we will actively participate in responding to the traditional and new threats, and we will do so in at least three ways.
First, by investing in defence. Our current defence budget stands on 1.57% of our GDP. We are committed to reaching the threshold of 2% by 2024, within which we are already allocating 20% of the budget for the modernization of our army, in line with all the NATO standards.
Second by continuing the defense reforms. NATO membership is helping us to strengthen the resilience of our security system, particularly when it comes to challenges posed by third parties. Being a target of hybrid threats in, at least, the last few years, and being situated in a fragile region, that still has some open issues. The cooperation with the NATO intelligence and security structures is of utmost importance for North Macedonia.
Third, by exporting security together, through NATO led operations. Year before becoming a member, we have been part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan, and we recently became a troop contributing nation, in the KFOR Mission.
We welcome the decision to start the withdrawal of NATO Resolute Support mission by first of May. However, our intention is to remain engaged in all NATO led missions, today and in the future.
Dear friends, the upcoming NATO Summit will be a good chance for discussing the emerging challenges, but also strengthening the Transatlantic Partnership, which beyond doubt, will have a positive impact on the stability of the Western Balkans.
During our meeting with the Secretary General, we have exchanged views about all of these topics, but also about the ongoing initiative, NATO 2030, in order to make the strong Alliance, even stronger.
Secretary General, dear Jens, once again thank you for your hospitality and support. Thank you.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson Piers Cazalet: We have time for two questions. We'll start with Tanja Milevska from MIA.
Tanja Milevska (MIA): So a question to the Secretary General first. I would like to know, have you a comment on the tensions between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, given that they are both members of the Alliance? And this is not the first time that two members of the Alliance are going to tensions, you have also Greece and Turkey. So, could you give us your opinion on this? And is this a sign that maybe something is wrong inside the Alliance? Or are you working on improving bilateral relations when it comes to Bulgaria in North Macedonia? I would also like to have your comment on these non-papers in EU about possible change of borders inside the region. It was in the news very much in the region.
And for the President. When it comes to defense spending, to increasing defense spending in times of crisis such as this one, where Macedonia is facing a terrible, a dire situation, how would you convince the citizens that it is the right time to increase defense spending for NATO? Thank you.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: First, to the first question. Let me start by saying that NATO is an Alliance of 30 allies from both sides of the Atlantic, with different history, political parties in power, and there has always been some differences between NATO Allies. But what we've also seen is that NATO is a platform for Allies to come together and to engage in constructive dialogue, and NATO promotes dialogue between Allies when we see differences. And I will also like to remind you of the fact that actually it was courage and political leadership in Skopje, in Sofia and in Athens that made it possible to reach the political agreements on the name issue and other issues that opened the door for North Macedonia to become a full member of this Alliance. So today, North Macedonia is highly valued NATO Ally. Of course, we have seen that there are also today some differences. And what we encourage is a constructive dialogue between Allies to address and solve those differences.
Then, on the reported non-papers. First of all, it's not for me to comment on papers, I have not seen. But what is of a greater importance is that any speculation about changing borders will only add to the uncertainty. And risk creates instability in the region. So I think any speculation about that is not helpful. What matters for NATO is that the stability and the security in the Western Balkans is important for of course the region, but also important for peace and stability in Europe. And therefore, NATO strongly supports stability in the region, in different ways, working closely with partners in the region, but also through our open door policy. We have to remember that there are many NATO Allies in the region. And over the last few years, NATO has had the privilege of welcoming two more countries in the region as full members of all the Alliance. First Montenegro, and last year North Macedonia. So we will continue to work for peace and stability with our partners in the region, of course, with our members in the region, and constructive dialogue and continued respect for international recognized borders is the best way forward for stability and security in the region.
President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Mr. Stevo Pendarovski: The issue you have posed to me is, in essence, the most debated issue in the past year I think by each European government, probably wider on. How to find the balance between the health, protecting the health of our citizens, which is, and still is of the utmost importance for everybody, and how not to close down totally the economic system, because that is what is supporting everything else, including the lives of our people.
Believe me, many times within the government and in the communication between the Government of North Macedonia and the office of the President, we have lengthy discussions on that issue, how to distribute […] resources we have at our disposal, and distributed between the defense spending, and economic and health needs of the whole population.
I am rather sure that we have found the fine balance in between these two areas, tightly interconnected, I will say, between each other. We have executed approximately 1 billion euros to our citizens and the people mostly in need in the so called five economic packages in the past year. And at the same time increasing the defense budget, as we have pledged two years ago, before becoming a member of the Alliance.
So I think you ask what the people think about our responsibility and our deliveries in the meantime in both of these very important areas than how we protect the people's health. And what about this spending in the defense area? Then we have been just told by Secretary General in the meeting, that there is the latest NATO polling - I won’t like to bore you with the polling done in North Macedonia, but certainly unbiased one professionally done - asking the people what do you think about the… or if today is there a referendum for entering the NATO Alliance, what's going to be your stance? We have been between the several of the old member states of the Alliance with the highest rate of approval. So citizens do value our efforts in protecting their health and protecting the viability of our economic system, but in the same time, they are not undervaluing our efforts to keep in good shape our defense and security system.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson Piers Cazalet: We have time for one more question. We will go to Tamara Grncaroska from Telma TV.
Tamara Grncaroska (Telma TV): Mr. Secretary General, you already answered my question that I have for you but I will put it in a different way. What is the position of NATO about redrawing of borders, particularly if this redrawing includes borders of a few NATO member states? And what is your comment on the information that those documents circulate in Brussels, among member states, a few… in the same time member states of NATO.
And for President Pendarovski. Do you maybe have information, who is behind those documents, and with what purpose? Is it acceptable for you such a proposal to circulate and be considered in Brussels? Thank you.
Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg: So first of all, these are documents I only read about in the newspapers. They have not been circulated among NATO Allies at the NATO Headquarters. I have not seeing them. I cannot confirm the existence of these documents. So these are documents that I have only seen and referred to in media and I will never comment on documents I have not seen or read myself. So that's my main message about those documents which is not possible to say anything about as long as I've not seen them.
More in general I can say that what we believe is that NATO plays an important role in helping to stabilize the Western Balkan region through our members in the region - Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania. And of course we have also countries like Croatia and Slovenia. So there are many members in the region. And there are also partners including Serbia, and we are working with Serbia. Serbia has clearly stated that they are not seeking NATO membership. We totally to respect that. We respect the neutrality of Serbia and we respect the decision not to seek NATO membership. But we welcome the fact that we are able to work with Serbia, and that Serbia is a partner of NATO. Bosnia and Herzegovina, another partner and aspirant country, which is working for further Euro Atlantic integration. We work with Bosnia and Herzegovina on that path.
What we need is dialogue, and therefore also NATO has supported the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina for many years. We have the careful mission there to help to stabilize and to protect all communities in Kosovo. And we, of course, support all efforts to make progress in the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue. It's not for NATO to then recommend what should be the outcome of this dialogue. We just support that the involved parties are sitting down together and seeking to find solutions together.
President of the Republic of North Macedonia, Mr. Stevo Pendarovski: Dear Tamara, I'm not boasting about the fact that I was the first politician from the region two years ago who spoke very loudly, very clear, and publicly against these very very dangerous ideas.
I wouldn't like to waste anybody's time and to chase for the creators and couriers, or messengers, of these so called non-papers. Rather, I would like to ask all the people, all the European governments, what do they think about these ideas. I can tell you from all the contacts I've had yesterday with the high functionaries within the European Union and today with the Secretary General, and on a daily basis bilaterally with all the other Allies within the NATO Alliance, no one, no one, I would like to emphasize that word, and no government is supporting these non-papers. The very fact that the authors are not publicly known of these non-papers is a clear proof that they are… even they are ashamed of their ideas. Only the people who are not capable of producing creative ideas and concepts how to promote the national interests of their countries and how to make the lives of their people better, only those type of people are producing these kinds of non-concept, concepts… non-papers, thinking, believing that if you divide the people along the ethnic lines, then the prosperity will come overnight.
NATO Deputy Spokesperson Piers Cazalet: Thank you very much for joining us everyone. Thank you, Mr. President. Thank you, Secretary General.