Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has said Macedonia's NATO membership will greatly contribute to regional stability and that NATO's only Muslim member, Turkey will do everything to tackle barriers facing its membership.
Davutoglu told a joint news conference with his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Poposki in Ankara on Tuesday that Turkey was hopeful of overcoming what he called "artificial barriers" to NATO membership for the Balkan country. Turkey considers NATO membership of both Bosnia and Herzegovina and Macedonia necessary for enduring stability in the region, he added.
Recalling Turkey's 20 years of diplomatic relations with Macedonia, Davutoglu 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 had urged NATO members to give his country another chance to join the Alliance at its Chicago summit later this month. NATO had 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 NATO entry 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.
Davutoglu said Turkey recognized Macedonia by its own constitutional name and would 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 U.S. 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 on his expectations for the upcoming NATO summit, 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 claimed.
The visiting Minister also had a message for all supporters of Macedonia's NATO bid, including Turkey. "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 was quoted in Turkish media as saying.
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 three-fold," he said.
Davutoglu said they had signed an agreement that allows Macedonian nationals to stay in Turkey up to 90 days without visa.
by RTT Staff Writer
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