‘We are ready to join NATO as FYROM’

The government in Skopje is ready to join NATO as the «Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia» (FYROM), its president, Branko Crvenkovski, told Kathimerini in this wide-ranging interview in which he said that Skopje would not back down in any way in the search for a mutually acceptable solution to the dispute with Greece over Skopje’s use of the name «Macedonia.» «We have already made too many concessions,» he said in presenting his government’s position amid reports from Greece of the possibility of early elections because of the situation with FYROM. Crvenkovski does not believe that UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will abandon his mandate to find a solution to the problem. He rejects accusations by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis of intransigence and irrendentism on FYROM’s part. As for FYROM’s political priorities in view of its desire to join NATO, he claims that his country is «ready to join NATO under the name used at the UN,» that is FYROM. Given the reference in the interim agreement that Greece will not prevent FYROM’s accession to any international organization if it uses that name, this might change Athens’s position regarding a possible veto of FYROM’s accession to NATO. As for Kosovo, Crvenkovski said Skopje would unilaterally recognize it as an independent state if recognition were forthcoming from NATO and the European Union. How did you view the Greek prime minister’s recommendations that your government abandon its intransigence over the name issue? The Republic of Macedonia has adopted a constructive approach and has displayed good will in the talks held in New York. Believe me when I say that we would like more than anyone else in the world to find a solution and to do away with the anachronistic and derogatory term «Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia,» and I mean that. I would like to remind the Greek public that in October 2005, we accepted the last proposal of UN mediator [Matthew] Nimetz as firm ground for further talks. That was not a hasty decision, nor was it easily arrived at but was an indication of our good will. Unfortunately, Athens did not accept the proposal. In actual fact, we, the Republic of Macedonia and our citizens, have already made too many concessions. We have amended our constitution and changed the state’s flag, a decision that hurt us here in Macedonia. Finally, we accepted Nimetz’s last proposal as a good basis for talks but unfortunately Greece rejected it and the procedure did not move forward. Still, Greece appears to desire, justifiably it seems, that you take another step. Even (former prime minister Constantine) Mitsotakis has asked you to meet Athens halfway. Are you willing to do that? Until now we have taken difficult steps and what I can tell you know is that not only have we come halfway, but half that distance again. The Greek prime minister, nevertheless, has drawn attention to irredentist acts on the part of Skopje. What is your response to that? The Republic of Macedonia has no territorial claims on any of its neighbors, including Greece. In order to avoid any misunderstanding, we have clearly stated in our constitution that we will not intervene in the sovereign rights of other countries or in their domestic affairs. I am convinced that there is no reasonable argument that our constitutional name, nor the Republic of Macedonia as a state, could be a threat to Greece’s territorial integrity. As far as I recall, during your premiership you had avoided actions that might have harmed the climate in relations between the two countries. So do you think that renaming Skopje airport as «Alexander the Great,» which as you know raised protests in Greece, was to any purpose? Our government has publicly explained the reasons that led it to rename the airport. Among those arguments there is not one that could harm our neighbor Greece. Unfortunately, there were strong protests, followed by several harsh accusations and statements. I hope that in the future both sides will be more discreet and rational. There is the sense in Greece that during US President George W. Bush’s visit to Tirana within the next few days, your country’s accession to NATO will be sealed. Is that the message you are getting? The USA and President Bush are enthusiastic supporters of a new enlargement of NATO, hence our ambitions to join the alliance as a full member. Of course, in the near future they expect us to present substantial and tangible results with regard to reforms and to confirm our readiness and ability to join NATO. I believe that the meeting between President Bush and the three prime ministers of the Adriatic nations – Macedonia, Albania and Croatia – in Tirana will result in strong encouragement to proceed with and fulfill the necessary criteria. Nevertheless, the relevant decision will be made at the NATO summit next year. Would your side agree to join NATO under the name FYROM, which would enable Athens to refrain from exercising a veto? Naturally, our accession to NATO under our constitutional name would be the most satisfactory for us. Nevertheless, if no solution to the dispute is found before we join NATO, we are ready to become a full member with the name with which we are currently referred to at the UN, as a temporary solution. As an experienced politician, you know as much as anyone about the dispute with Greece. Do you see the issue being resolved soon, and, if so, how do you think it will remain an open wound in relations between neighbors that in other respects claim to be friends? The question is a very delicate one, both sides are particularly sensitive about it. So, based on past experience, it is very difficult to be optimistic and foresee a speedy resolution. Considering the great importance of this question for my country, it is clear that the substance of the final outcome is far more important than a speedy solution. It is a question of safeguarding our constitutional name and cultural integrity, issues of the utmost priority for every country. Nimetz will continue Based on what you know, do you think it likely that UN mediator Matthew Nimetz will surrender his mandate in the fall and, subsequently, that there will be recourse to the Security Council? I have no information, at least to date, that such a scenario is likely. On the contrary, given Nimetz’s recent statements, I am convinced that he will continue to help both sides within the framework of the mission delegated by the UN secretary-general. On Kosovo, joint policy with NATO and EU Are you worried about the apparent stalemate on Kosovo? I must say that this issue is very important for us, as we are neighbors. We cannot influence developments in Kosovo but we will suffer the consequences as we have a common border. What we wanted is not feasible: That is for Pristina and Belgrade to agree. Nor am I optimistic that this could happen in future since their positions are not only different but completely opposed. That means that the international community must solve the problem and the best way is with a UN Security Council resolution. In that case, we, as a UN member, will accept the resolution. That will also create the legal framework for an international military and political presence. That is very important because (that) will be a guarantee that the situation can be kept under control. If there is a veto from Russia or for any other reason, then the situation will worsen. I can tell you what our position will be if there is no resolution. We, as a candidate country for accession to NATO and the EU, will follow the joint policy of those two organizations. However, the situation could become more complicated if NATO and the EU do not formulate a joint policy. I hope that this will not happen, because that will have unforeseeable consequences both for NATO and the EU. Our own interest as a state is to maintain good relations with both Pristina and Belgrade. Our policy is not to build new bridges by knocking down old ones. If there is no resolution, and the ethnic Albanians in Kosovo declare independence which is then unilaterally recognized by other countries, what will you do then? As I said, we will follow the joint policy of NATO and the EU. If their position is to open up diplomatic relations and recognize Kosovo, then that is what we will do. Do you see a risk of complications in your country from negative developments in Kosovo? We are neighbors but I do not think that domestic developments in Kosovo will affect us directly. However, we are following the situation closely because there is a risk that the destabilization of Kosovo could spread to neighboring countries. If we are talking about stability in our country, then how we deal with interethnic issues is even more important than what happens in Kosovo. What progress has been made in the Ohrid Accord, the basis of your interethnic relations? I can tell you that most of it has been implemented and that since 2001 we have made great strides. Today interethnic issues are not the main issue in the country’s political life. There is more discussion of economic and social problems and that is a good sign. However, so as not to be misunderstood, I believe that the interethnic issue is particularly important for political stability and should not be underestimated. Although interethnic tension has been reduced, it is still a factor that needs particular attention.

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