Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has said Macedonia’s membership in NATO will greatly contribute to regional stability and that NATO’s only Muslim member Turkey will do everything to tackle barriers facing the country’s membership.
Davutoğlu said at a joint news conference with his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Poposki, that Turkey hopes to overcome, what he called, “artificial barriers” to NATO membership for the Balkan country. He added that Turkey considers the membership of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia in NATO as necessary for enduring stability in the region.
Recalling that Turkey is marking its 20th anniversary of establishing diplomatic relations with Macedonia, Davutoğlu described political relations with the Balkan nation as “excellent,” adding that Turkey considers the stability, peace and prosperity of Macedonia as the main backbone of peace and stability in the Balkans.
Last week, Macedonia's prime minister urged NATO members to give his country another chance to join the alliance at its summit later this month. The alliance rejected Macedonia’s previous bid in 2008, following objections from neighboring Greece.
Athens has a long-running dispute with Skopje over Macedonia’s name, which Greece claims could imply claims on its own northern province also called Macedonia. Under a 1995 bilateral agreement, Greece had agreed not to block Macedonia’s membership in international organizations if it used the name the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
Although the question of Macedonia’s name is sometimes seen as superficial by outsiders, it is a matter of deep concern for both sides. The young country has used the name in one form or another since shortly after World War II, when it was a province of Yugoslavia, but Greece sees use of the name as historically inaccurate at best and a potential threat to its territorial integrity at worst.
Davutoğlu said Turkey recognizes Macedonia by its own constitutional name and will continue to do so. “We support Macedonia’s membership in NATO as part of its integration into the international community,” he added.
Macedonia has been friendly to NATO since its independence, allowing US troops to use its territory as a staging ground during the Yugoslav wars. NATO clashed with Serbia under the rule of Slobodan Milosevic, even as Greece sympathized with Belgrade due to historical strategic and religious ties.
Responding to a question regarding his expectations for the upcoming NATO summit in Chicago, Poposki said that, as far as he knew, the gathering would not be a summit of expansion. “Macedonia has, in the long term, fulfilled the conditions for NATO membership,” he added.
The visiting minister also had a message for all supporters of Macedonia’s NATO bid, including Turkey. He stated: “Every remark from the parties that have a word on this issue interests us. Because we consider all signals towards Macedonia’s NATO membership as signals for peace and stability in the Balkans.”
The Macedonian foreign minister also told reporters that Turkey and Macedonia should use their potential to transform the Balkans into an area of prosperity. “In order to turn our region into a more developed and prosperous area, both Turkey and Macedonia should use the potential in their hands in the best way,” Poposki said, adding that Turkey and Macedonia have worked together to establish peace, prosperity and stability in the Balkans.
“However,” he added, “in order to carry this process a step further, Macedonia’s integration in the international community should be provided for, especially through bodies such as NATO and Euro-Atlantic organizations.”
“If we achieve this, we can ensure a peaceful and prosperous atmosphere in the Balkans,” Poposki said. Poposki also underlined that conflicts and disagreements should be left to history. “Let us work for a better future,” he stressed.
Commenting on economic relations between Turkey and Macedonia, Poposki said his country expected its trade volume with Turkey to increase from the current $400 million to $1 billion. “We believe it may even grow by threefold,” he said.
Davutoğlu added that they had signed an agreement that allows Macedonian nationals to stay in Turkey up to 90 days without visa.