Prime Minister Zaev: (Via interpreter) Distinguished Secretary of State of the United States of America Mr. Michael Pompeo, distinguished media representatives, distinguished members of the two delegations, we are honored with the fact that today North Macedonia is hosting the U.S. Secretary of State Mr. Michael Pompeo. This visit is a strong signal for the continuous support that United States of America are providing to our country for our Euro-Atlantic integrations, and it is a great opportunity for us to reaffirm that we continue to work together on further enhancement of our relations and cooperation.
The United States of America has been a proven friend and a supporter of North Macedonia. Alongside the political support as of the independence until today, we have also received great support through various projects and programs of the USAID for development of democracy, institutions, and improvement of the life of our citizens. A great deal of volunteers from the Peace Corps has been giving immense contribution to the development of local communities throughout the country. The American people are friend to the Macedonian people, and to all people who live in our country.
North Macedonia is a committed strategic partner to the USA. We have strong political and historical reasons to maintain and reinforce our friendship. Part of these reasons are our shared efforts and values for security, freedom, and democratic prosperity in the region, as well as the common activities in the fight against terrorism and other threats for peace throughout the world.
I pointed out to Mr. Pompeo that we are ready to intensify our participation in all global initiatives which confront disinformation and threats on democracy. By becoming a full-fledged NATO member-state, our contribution in that direction will receive a great stimuli and a new dimension. The NATO membership is our sovereign decision, and there is a strong support that goes beyond political parties and a serious inter-ethnic consensus. The NATO membership is achievement of a historic goal. It is a great benefit not only for our country, but also for the reinforcement of the security, freedom, and democratic prosperity of the whole region.
So far, 22 countries have ratified the NATO accession protocol for North Macedonia, and we are optimistically awaiting the full-fledged NATO membership very soon. I avail myself of this opportunity to extend my appreciation to the United States of America for their unambiguous, bipartisan support for our NATO membership. We are waiting on the good news in near future that the protocol is ratified in the USA.
In the meantime, we are fully ready to accept the obligations coming with the NATO membership. We have strong political will to make the army budget at least 2 percent of the GDP, and that – and no later than 2024, even maybe a year earlier. These assets will be used for modernization of our army, as well as for strengthening of our capacities and opportunities to give our contribution to NATO.
During our meeting, I had the opportunity to inform Mr. Pompeo of our accomplishments in freeing this captured state. We had set new foundations and we reinforced the democratic values, institutions, and legal state. The media freedom is significantly improved and we are developing an inclusive decision-making process. We are building one society for all – a mosaic of diversity where our focus is placed on the economy that is providing chance for better life of all citizens.
North Macedonia is a unique country in the region because there are no open bilateral issues with any of our neighbors. T he agreements with Bulgaria and Greece were historic decisions and they were key to accomplishing our strategic goals: NATO and EU membership. We are hoping that in ten days we will hear the long-expected news from Brussels, opening of EU membership negotiations. I believe that the good news from Brussels will have a positive impact over the whole region. This will send a message that the Western Balkan is an integral part of Europe. It will award the progress of the reforms and the resolution of longstanding disputes. This will encourage all other countries to show political courage for overcoming other disputes.
The good news for a start of negotiations with EU and for NATO membership also send a strong message to the youth of our country: North Macedonia is changing towards better. One can live well here. The development will be faster if the young people are engaged here in their own country.
In the very end, I would like to underline that a stable Balkan region is in the interest of the EU in terms of geopolitics, security, and economy. And on such note, this visit and the encouragement coming from the United States of America is of utmost importance to us. Thank you.
SECRETARY POMPEO: Thank you, Prime Minister Zaev. We had a wonderful, warm meeting. I am truly delighted to be here on the 25th anniversary of full diplomatic relationships between the United States and North Macedonia. We’ve come a long way since a small American liaison office opened up in Skopje in 1994. Our first chief of mission here said we started with a small rented office space, we came with only a box, a chair, and a typewriter. Today, we have 61 great American diplomats and more than 250 local staff, and I hope they have a little more furniture. (Laughter.)
The growth of our diplomatic team here reflects the relationship in our strategic partnership and how it’s grown. For 25 years we’ve worked together for a free and secure and sovereign Europe and beyond, and yet I’m the first secretary of state to visit here since 2001. Clearly, this stop was overdue. It’s fantastic to be here. We’ve talked a lot about how this region and this country matter a lot to the United States. It’s one thing to talk about it, it’s another thing to physically manifest that by coming to visit, and I thank you for hosting me and my team here today.
You’ve – prime minister, you’ve contributed troops to fight alongside ours in both Iraq and Afghanistan. You’re on track to spend 2 percent of your budget on defense by 2020, you’ve contributed to the coalition which has defeated the ISIS caliphate. These commitments give us great confidence that North Macedonia would be a strong, capable NATO partner, part of the alliance. I am confident that the United States Senate will ratify your accession protocol this fall so that we can formally fold you in to the NATO team.
I also want to commend you on the historic Prespa Agreement that North Macedonia and Greece forged last year. The pact will serve as a foundation for closer economic ties between the two nations, especially on energy, and for greater stability in the Balkans and in Europe as a whole. Similarly, we welcome the treaty of friendship between North Macedonia and Bulgaria, which also contributes to the spirit of good relationships among allies. Your commitment to positive leadership has set the tone for my positive talks with President Pendarovski and member of North Macedonia’s cabinet today.
As the world’s leading democracy, America supports countries as they pursue strong commitments to the rule of law and good government. We welcome the steps that your government has taken to fight corruption and encourage greater accountability for anyone who has abused the public trust. Fighting corruption is critical to your EU and NATO accession hopes, but even more importantly, it’s the right thing for democracy and it’s the right thing to do for your people. Strong democracies must also be responsive to public concern and take firm measures to resist and defend against malign influences. The hearts and minds of North Macedonia citizens should guide your country forward, not Russian bots and trolls on social media.
Growing our economic ties is something we spent a fair amount of time talking about today. It was a major piece of our discussions. Maintaining North Macedonia’s impressive commitment to economic freedom is vital to grow your economy and spark new interest from American companies and, frankly, countries from all around the world. As I’ve done elsewhere in my travels in Europe, I also warned of the risks of Chinese investment in sensitive technologies and China’s bribe-heavy strategy to secure infrastructure deals. We want North Macedonia to succeed, not struggle with corruption or with debt.
Last week at the UN General Assembly, President Trump said that the future belongs to sovereign and independent nations who protect their citizens, respect their neighbors, and honor the differences that each make – that make each country special and unique. North Macedonia is channeling that spirit. The United States will continue to partner with you for the good of your citizens, for the region, and for the world. Thank you