on 18 December 2002
at the NATO Press Centre in Skopje
Statement of Craig Ratcliff:
Good morning. As you can see, today we have special guests. But, before
we turn the floor over to the Ambassadors, we have some administrative
notes. First, reference in article in a local newspaper “Vest”.
It has been suggested that it is unsafe in the skiing areas, and according
to the international standards, we have stated clearly that it meets the
international standards for mine-free areas. So, we need to make it clear
today that the information in the article is incorrect and the areas are
safe, and are meeting international standards. One other point, today
is 18 December, following lessons learnt last year, we will restart press
conferences on 15 January. We appreciate the extended vacation. At this
point, I will turn it over to the Ambassadors.
Sir, the floor is yours.
Statement of NATO Ambassador, Nicolaas Biegman:
Welcome all of you. I think our main message for this session is to wish
you Marry Christmas. Frankly, I don’t have much else to say to you,
which is a very good sign in itself. I think we have had a very good year.
The wisdom of those who argued for a peaceful solution of last year’s
crisis was confirmed again and again. The high point was reached, of course,
in September with peaceful, free and fair elections. At this stage, there
is a Government in place, which, I know, is very sincere in reconciling
former differences. So, looking back, I see remarkable success in Macedonia,
which can really serve as example for many other regions and countries
in the world. Looking ahead, I see a multi-ethnic society, which really
wants to succeed. So, all this is reason why I am feeling pretty good
today. This is all I wanted to say, and, of course, I am open to all your
Statement of Special EU Representative, Alexis Brouhns:
Thank you. I know that the year that has passed has, in many ways, been
a difficult one for many people in Macedonia, especially for those directly
affected by the crisis or by the economic difficulties the country is
now facing. But I think also that this year has been a turning point.
Macedonia is in a better shape now than it was one year ago. Tensions
have decreased, implementation of the Framework Agreement has moved forward,
and elections as well as census have been held in orderly and dignified
manner. All the citizens, as well as all the political parties in the
country deserve great credit for that impressive achievement. Next year,
this work should continue and be intensified. Economic and financial reforms,
full implementation of the Framework Agreement and progressive implementation
of the Stabilisation and Association Agreement are the different phases
of the same process – a process leading to economic recovery and
integration within EU. Concerning the Framework Agreement, I hope we will
get a new push from the party leaders’ meeting on December 26. If
2002 has been about closing the door to the conflict, 2003 should be about
locking that door and, instead, opening the one leading to EU. We will
continue to support the Government and the population in these efforts.
I wish all people in Macedonia all success in 2003, and I wish all of
you happy holidays and happy New Year. Srekna Nova godina. GezuarVitin
Statement of US Ambassador, Lawrence Butler:
Thank you Alexis. Good morning, I wanted to join today’s press
briefing, which is my second time up here, so I can personally extend
my greetings for the holidays and that of the Embassy. Much of the Embassy’s
staff is getting ready to go back to the United States to spend Christmas
and New Year with their families, but my family and I will be here for
the holidays. I am about to complete my first year in Macedonia, and I
wanted to share just a few thoughts with you. First is to thank you as
journalists for your role that you play in the process of helping strengthen
Macedonia’s understanding of the outside world, particularly that
of the United States. You have had an exceptionally good year. You have
kept your fellow citizens informed and up-to-date about important issues
that affect their lives. A free and independent press in vital to Macedonia’s
future, as member of NATO and member of the European Union. We are unreservedly
committed to supporting you, even if we don’t always agree with
everything you write or put on the air. But, we have tremendous respect
for your profession. Second, like Alexis did, I will take a moment to
review the successes and challenges that confronted Macedonia in this
year. A year ago, your headlines were: “Spring Offensive”.
Instead, that did not happen. Instead, you had September and the best
elections in this part of the world. Your citizens confirmed Macedonia’s
status as a democracy. Your citizens rejected extremism and nationalism.
They put Macedonia firmly on the path that holds tremendous promise. Our
New Year’s wishes for Macedonia is that you achieve a true, vibrant
democracy, a solid rule of law, economic prosperity, respect for human
rights, and a transparent government that works for all the people in
Macedonia. You deserve all of this, but it will not come easy. There will
be occasional setbacks, but if the voters directly and through the media
make it clear to their elected representatives that they expect them to
work hard, transparently and without corruption, you will succeed. Our
top two priorities for 2003 are to work with your country on the implementation
of the Framework Agreement, and to put Macedonia back on the way to economic
prosperity. And we put our money where our mouth is, by watching the competitiveness
of the project with USAID earlier this month. And Alexis and I will be
giving part of our Christmas holidays to join with the signatories of
the Framework Agreement, to chart the course coordinates for 2003. The
United States is unreservedly committed to supporting Macedonia as this
country is moving forward. Srekni praznici.
Statement of Chief of OSCE Mission:
I guess I am last, I will try to be brief. I want to underline the successes,
the fact that is was a good year, I think that is obvious. I think I would
just agree with my colleagues that these successes were the successes
of those who chose peace, interethnic tolerance and political compromise
as the way ahead. They were victories over those who prefer outdated nationalism,
extremism and isolationism. Of course, that latter group is for the past,
for history. If you want for your children peace, prosperity, and a better
future, and integration in the Euro-Atlantic structures, the way forward
is the way that has been chosen this year – tolerance and political
compromise. So, I wish you personally, I wish your families and friends,
and I wish all the citizens of this beautiful country a happy holiday
season, and a very prosperous year.
Ratcliff: At this point, we are open for questions,
but please, Ambassador Butler leaves in five minutes, he has an appointment,
if you would direct all questions for him first.
Question 1: Ambassador Butler, could you, please, explain
how much truth there is in the announcements that – there are words
about taking Ali Ahmeti off the black list of the United States?
Butler: No new question, not a new topic. We have always made it very
clear that the President’s executive order is constantly being reviewed
to make sure the persons and the organizations that are listed meet the
criteria of threatening the stability in the Balkans. But, personally,
I am not in a position to make a prediction as to when Mr. Ahmeti or anybody
else might be taken off, but it is constantly under review.
Question 2: Mr. Butler, there were reports in the media
that Iraq wants to establish diplomatic relations with Macedonia. Do you
think that is a wise thing to do? Should Macedonia establish diplomatic
relations with Iraq?
Butler: The decisions on the part of this country as to who and which
country it wants to have diplomatic relations with are sovereign decisions.
I am actually unaware from anyone I have talked to here that there is
interest on the part of Macedonia in establishing relations with Iraq.
Question 3: I have a question for Ambassadors Butler
and Brouhns. What are your expectations from the leaders’ meeting?
What concretely do you expect from these meetings, and is there going
to be one or more leaders’ meeting?
Brouhns: I think it is a good opportunity after the elections
to have a meeting with all the party leaders, to recommit all the political
parties vis-à-vis the full and further implementation of the Framework
Agreement in order also to discuss the action plan and the time frame
of the actions to be taken by the Government in 2003, and therefore to
give new impetus to this process. This meeting could be followed by other
meetings, not necessarily at the same level, to discuss the different
draft laws to be introduced to Parliament.
Butler: A major portion of our work plan for 2003, USAID
involves supporting this Government’s efforts to implement the Framework
Agreement, which should be one of the main topics, and we are at the disposal
of the parties any time they need us.
Question 4: Mr. Butler, some of the Macedonian officials
recently have said that there is still risk for the armed groups to reorganize.
What do you think, what does the US think – is there still risk
Butler: There is an American proverb that says: the price of liberty is
eternal vigilance. We are very alert, we assess the prospect for return
of violence are very, very low. The one or two extremists we know about
have no support in this country, and they run the risk, wherever they
are, of being taken into custody for threatening the safe and secure environment.
The peoples of Macedonia have figured out there is a better way for it,
and it does not include supporting people with guns. And we will continue
to support that effort.
Ratcliff: Thank you Ambassador for coming today.
Question 5: I would like to ask any of the international
representatives here. Do you have any information about what is written
in the Kosovo newspapers – that there are extremists in Kosovo from
the so-called ANA, who are preparing actions, and they allegedly have
support of the Macedonian population?
Biegman: I am in contact from time to time with the people
in KFOR, of course, with the NATO people who are in Kosovo, and it seems
to be their assessment that whoever calls himself AKS or ANA are very
much isolated individuals, without plan, without money and without much
else. It is also our assessment that at this stage, within Macedonia,
there is no support for this kind of political extremism at all.
Question 6: Jasmina Mironski, FP. Mr. Ambassador, I
would like to ask you, you just mentioned that “at this stage”
they don’t have any kind of support. Do you have any information
that there might be in the future, when the problem, or the issue, of
Kosovo will be solved?
Biegman: I don’t have information about the future. You would have
to ask maybe a lady who can look into a coffee cup. All I can speak about
is this point in time, and, at this point in time, we do not see any support
for any extremism, that is all I can say. But I certainly do not want
to imply that this kind of quietness is temporary, and we should prepare
for boisterous future, I do not believe in that at all.
Question 7: Todor Keramitcioski, Macedonian Radio. Ambassador
Jenness, I would like to ask you whether you also agree with these assessments
about the security, and I would also like to ask you more concretely about
your assessments of the rumours that there have been some groups in Tanusevci.
Jenness: Of course, there are people in any country,
and in this one – that may be engaging in criminal activities, that
are not constructive, do not support the legal order, but there are few
here, and they do not enjoy any broad political support. We have no specific
information about problems in Tanusevci security related. Of course, it
is a sensitive area, we would like to see a resolution of some of the
documentation issues there, and we welcome the efforts of the Minister
of Interior recently to resolve them. I would like to add for the journalists:
it is important, I would encourage all of you to go out in those areas
that you are concerned, worried about – go there and see the situation
is pretty stable.
Question 8: A question for Ambassador Biegman: I would
like to ask for your comment at the ceremony of the termination of the
“Amber Fox” mission about the incident that happened there,
i.e. when the Albanian language was used in the translation as well, and
when instead of Macedonia, the reference FYROM was also used.
Biegman: I think about these mistakes: the less said
the better. I think it is a pity that the enormous success, which the
“Fox” operation achieved during the last year, and which sometimes
really made the difference between war and peace in this country, has
been overshadowed by a silly mistake. There was, first of all, the use
of the abbreviation FYROM, which NATO never uses, certainly not within
the borders of this country, which you will never have heard the Secretary
General use, or which you will never have heard me use. It slipped into
this text, and was pronounced a couple of times, and that is all. As far
as the Albanian language goes, it was certainly not the idea to make that
into a political gesture or anything of that kind. I think “Fox”
had a lot to do with especially the former crisis areas, of course, which
are largely inhabited by Albanians. Maybe, as a matter of courtesy, they
wanted to translate what they said for that reason. But, again, there
is no political angle to it, there is no new policy on the part of NATO.
And I agreed with the Minister of Foreign Affairs, whom I saw that same
evening at 7.30, that the incident was closed. So, I would like to keep
Jenness: Can I actually add a word here? Ambassador,
if you agree. Since the “Fox” was there primarily, within
the mandate, to assist us, I think the story is, and I hope the story
is not lost: men and women were here to help the country and the citizens
here, I think they did their jobs extremely professionally, and I believe
that those who came into contact with the “Foxes” would have
nothing but good things to say about their efforts, and I hope that people
will not lose sight of that.
Brouhns: Shortly, on behalf of the EU, I should also
stress the beautiful job achieved by the NATO “Fox” operation
in this country.
Question 9: I have a question to Ambassadors Biegman
and Brouhns: for a longer period of time, we have been hearing the congratulation
notes, the greetings for the successes of Macedonia on economic, political,
especially in the minority domain. However, during the last enlargements
of NATO and EU, we saw that countries which have not achieved so much
success in the political, economic or, especially, ethnic domain, have
been included in these two organizations. So, can we expect to be admitted
anywhere, on some precise dates?
Brouhns: In Copenhagen, the situation of the countries
was discussed by the Heads of governments and Heads of states, and the
European Council recalled the criteria which were defined in ’93
for the candidate countries to get closer to the EU and to start negotiations
with. Copenhagen also reaffirms the European perspective, i.e. the European
vocation of the five countries from the western Balkans. The main tool
to be used in this policy is the Stabilization and Association process.
It is going to be, during the next Greek presidency, one of the main issues
to be discussed at the Thessalonica summit. Beyond the classical, traditional
EU summit, the Greek presidency will organize a special summit with the
leaders of the five western Balkan countries. You ask me when the negotiations
could start, for example between Macedonia and EU, when could Macedonia
become a member of the EU. The reply is quite simple: the pace of the
rapprochement of Macedonia with the EU is in the hands on the political
authorities of this country. The quicker you are pushing for reforms,
the quicker you will be ready to start with the accession negotiations.
So, I think, really, I would like to repeat – it is a main concern
for the EU after the present enlargement to deal with this part of Europe,
which, of course, is a part of the European Union.
Biegman: As far as NATO goes, as we have been saying,
our vision and Macedonia’s vision is full membership of Macedonia
in what is called the Euro-Atlantic structure. The moment at which Macedonia
will be invited to join NATO will very much depend on the political aspects,
because membership in the Alliance has to be ratified by the 19 Parliaments,
and, by that time, even more, because there will be new members. The criteria
that these Parliaments look at are only up to a point the armed forces
of a country, whether the armed forces are well structured, whether they
are useful to NATO or less so, that is interesting and necessary, but
that is only one aspect. What these politicians in the Parliaments look
at are especially the values which are in the Preamble of the NATO Treaty
of 1949, which are described there as democracy, individual liberty and
the rule of law. And that implies a number of things: rule of law, behaviour
of the police, legal system, whether there is trust in the legal system,
whether there is a decent relationship between the ethnicities in the
country, what is the degree of organized crime, or corruption, all these
things are taken into account by these various Parliaments, various Governments,
for a start. I know that the new Government is really working on all these
accounts, and I remember the speech made by the Prime Minister in front
of the Parliament. If your read through the speech, you will find all
the points that will be of interest, and not only for Macedonia internally,
but also for Macedonia in the eyes of the international world, and especially
of the members of the Alliance, who will have to invite you at some stage.
How long it will take for this program to be realized to such a degree
that all the new members of the Alliance will be comfortable at inviting
Macedonia – I do not know, I do not think it should be a very long
time. I hope I will still be there when you are invited. It is not a matter
of “if” you will be invited, you will be invited, but there
is a little homework to be done, that is all.
Question 10: I have a question to Ambassador Biegman:
do you know the culprit who made the mistake at the ceremony in Bunardzik.
Biegman: No, I do not know, and I do not want to know,
it was a low level mistake, and that is it.
Question 11: At the leaders’ meeting, only representatives
of the two communities are represented, the Macedonian and the Albanian
ones. So, what is with the other communities – the Serbian, the
Turkish and the other communities that live in Macedonia – I do
not know whether their presence has been neglected on purpose or not,
but I would like to ask how the interests of these communities are going
to be advocated, and how they are going to participate in the state organs?
Brouhns: This is what happened in the past and the leaders
of the signatories of the Framework Agreement, so I do not feel the need
this format and this pattern of the meeting. Of course, we discuss issues
that are related to protection of all minorities, and I think it is the
job of the different parties represented there also to defend their views.
It is also the job of the Government, which is going to be represented
there, to defend the positions of the different minorities, and I can
tell you that as witnesses the EU and the US will attend these meetings
and we will also take care of the questions you just mentioned now.
Journalist: How are the interests of a community going
to be advocated if the representatives of that community do not participate,
do you think that they can be fulfilled?
Brouhns: My office had contacts with representatives
of different minorities in the country. We have been listening to you,
we know your position, and, secondly I think that also you have some selected
members of Parliament, who are in a position also to advocate their interests
Question 12: I would like to ask Ambassador Jenness
when do you expect the Macedonian pupils to go back to school in Semsevo,
and what are the OSCE activities regarding this issue?
Jenness: This is an issue, of course, for the Government.
We fully support the Government’s handling of this. We work quite
hard with everyone in that area, with our partners to try to build confidence
and find a solution in line with the Government’s decisions. I am
sorry that this issue is as political as it is. The Government made a
decision, it should be implemented, and children should be in school.
And I think in certain ways we have all lost sight of that, of the fact
that children should be at school, that Government decisions should be
implemented, the issue of where the bust is should not be an issue on
the front page of the papers in the country for as long as this issue
has been. So, as I said, I hope the children are back at school, proper
school and the Government’s decisions are implemented as soon as
Journalist: This is not a question. I want in my name
and in the name of my colleagues to wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy
Biegman, Brouhns, Jenness: Thank you very much.
Ratcliff: Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for your attendance
today. All of you, have a great day.