Joint press conference
with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and the Prime Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia¹, Zoran Zaev
Prime Minister Zaev, dear Zoran,
It is a great pleasure to be back here in Skopje and to meet with you and with your ministers and many others politicians in this beautiful country. As you know, at the NATO Summit in July, Allies invited you to start accession talks. Following the agreement with Greece on the name issue. Compromise is never easy. And both sides made difficult compromises in order to reach this historic breakthrough. And look to a brighter future. So I want to thank you, Zoran, for your leadership and for your courage.
In a few weeks’ time, you will hold a referendum on the name agreement. This is your decision. But it is important that you make your voices heard. So I encourage voters to turn out in strong numbers. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To become a full member of the international community. With all the benefits that this will bring. The accession talks are underway. NATO membership is now within your grasp. This is an opportunity to consolidate peace and stability in the country and the region. To gain a seat, and an equal vote, at NATO’s table. And to join the most successful Alliance in history.
NATO keeps almost one billion citizens across Europe and North America safe. So joining NATO would mean having twenty-nine other countries committed to protect you and your security. Security is also the bedrock of prosperity and economic opportunity. Since Montenegro joined the Alliance last year, foreign investment from Allied countries has doubled.
So Prime Minister, We are ready. We are ready to welcome your country as NATO’s 30th member.
Once your national procedures are complete, I am confident that all Allies will ratify your accession.
Zoran, I congratulate you on the progress you have made taking this country forward. Economy is picking up and reforms have been implemented.
Including on the rule of law, security and intelligence, and the defence sector.
I encourage you to continue with these reforms.
This will make you safer, stronger, and even better able to work side-by-side with NATO Allies.
You already make important contributions to international security and early today I have met some of the troops from your country that have served the NATO missions in Afghanistan and in Irak.
So thank you for your contributions to our military operations and missions.
And you also helped to promote stability in the Western Balkans.
Prime Minister, we want to see your country succeed.
And we will support you.
NATO’s door is open.
But only the people of this country can decide to walk through it.
So your future is in your hands.
We wait for you in NATO.
Moderator [Translated]: Dear Journalists, let's go with the questions. As we have agreed, the first question is from international media. They have agreed that the Bloomberg correspondent will ask the question on their behalf.
Question [Bloomberg]: Mr Zaev, my question is to you. You've hinted a few times recently that there are signs of Russian meddling in your domestic affairs. Do you still see such signs? Do you think Russia is working to block the implementation of the name deal? And how far do you think this can go? Thank you.
Zoran Zaev [Prime Minister of Macedonia]: So, you know that [inaudible] consensus decision since 1993 in our country, is our full membership in NATO and European Union. That was confirmed two months ago really in the new declaration in our parliament. There is no alternative for my country than full membership of NATO and also parallelly full membership of European Union. We are a small country and we are a friendly country, and our intention is to build friendship with everybody, including Russia. And I hope that our citizens will have complete freedom to choose the future, what they nominated always, in the last past 25 years, that is huge expectation and huge strategic goal for everybody here in this [inaudible] country, and that is to became full member of NATO and European Union.
Moderator [Translated]: The second question from Alsat.
Question [Alsat]: Hello. Alsat Television. Knowing the importance of the national consensus for the referendum, I would like to hear from you, Mr Stoltenberg, how was your meeting with President Ivanov and your meeting with the leader of the opposition, Mickoski, because both of them have already confirmed their position against the referendum? There are voices that you weren't warmly welcomed by Ivanov. Is it true? And what about the meeting with Mickoski? Which was your message you brought to him and what about his feedback?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: I had very good meetings with both the President and with the leader of the opposition, and I think it's important when I visit this country that I meet both with the government, the Prime Minister and the Ministers, but also with the opposition, because that’s part of living in a strong democracy. And for me it's also important to listen and to understand, and to listen to their concerns and their views, and therefore I think that was important for me to meet both the President and the leader of the opposition, and also with other parliamentarians.
My message in those meetings was that this is a historic opportunity for this country. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to join the international community, to become a member of NATO, to become a member of the European Union. But to do so, you have to agree to the name agreement. There is no other way. There is no alternative path into NATO. And I say that because I understand, of course, that people in this country have a wish, or have some kind of first best alternative, to say no to the agreement and yes to joining NATO. But that alternative doesn’t exist. There is no way you can join NATO without the name agreement. So therefore you can either say yes to the agreement and yes to membership, or no to the agreement but that’s also no to membership. The idea that there is an alternative, where you can reject the name agreement with Greece and join NATO, is an absolute and total illusion. And I think for me, as a friend of your country, I have to be honest about this. Because I was present at the Summit in Bucharest in 2008, so I know how difficult the name issue is. And for ten years we have waited for you. We are ready, 29 Allies, including Greece, decided at the Summit to invite you, decided at the Summit to start accession talks, accession talks have started, but we will not conclude the accession talks before you implement the name agreement. I understand that’s difficult, but that’s the alternative, either name agreement and membership or no name agreement but then no membership.
And let me also add that I really believe that it will be a good thing for all of us to work more closely together, because security is important also for economic growth, prosperity, and we see that in Montenegro, where investments from NATO Allies have doubled since they joined the Alliance. The last thing I will say is that we can actually, if you implement the name agreement, we can sign the accession protocol this winter and then you will participate. So, we have a Defence Ministerial meeting in February and your Defence Minister can be there, sit at the table, have an equal seat together with the rest of us around that table. So, if you decide to implement the name agreement, you can start to participate in NATO meetings already the day after.
Moderator [Translated]: Tamara Garanchoska from Telma Television.
Question [Telma Television] [Translated]: A question to Prime Minister Zaev. If the census at the referendum is not met, what will be the next step of the government surrounding the agreement with Greece?
Zoran Zaev [Prime Minister of Macedonia] [Translated]: I consider myself as the greatest optimist, even when the reasons for optimisms were far lesser. As 30th September is approaching, the historic day for Macedonia, I have less and less reasons to think what if, there is no what if, I am convinced that the referendum will be successful, that the majority will vote yes, and I have no dilemmas over it. But the only thing that I want, and I would like to share this with the general public, is for us all together to stand shoulder to shoulder, to start our integration into NATO and the European Union, because it will bring economic standard for our citizens, we will keep our youth here and we will have prosperity here in our own country.
Moderator [Translated]: A colleague from the Austrian television, in the second row?
Question [Austrian Television]: [inaudible] the enlargement, what the membership of Macedonia to NATO will mean… means for the security situation in the Balkans? How do you evaluate this, how it will improve the security situation in the whole Western Balkans?
Jens Stoltenberg [NATO Secretary General]: Membership will contribute to stability in the whole region and I think we have seen this over many years, that the enlargement of NATO and the enlargement of the European Union has contributed to peace and stability and prosperity all over Europe, also in the region. We have NATO members here with… also in the region, with Slovenia, Croatia, Albania, but also most recently Montenegro, and I think we have to have seen every time NATO has enlarged that it has contributed to stability and prosperity. So of course, if you decide to join it's your decision. NATO will never force any country into the Alliance. It's you that have to decide, but if you decide to join, by accepting the name agreement, then it'll contribute to stability in the Western Balkans. That’s important for you. It's important also for all other NATO Allies, because when our neighbourhood is more stable we are more secure, and the best way to contribute to stability is of course to also have a stronger NATO with more members, including with your country.
Moderator [Translated]: Thank you for your attention. This is the end of the press conference.