|Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright and
Macedonian Prime Minister Ljubco Georgievski
Washington, D.C., June 2, 1999
As released by the Office of the Spokesman
U.S. Department of State
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Good morning. I am very pleased to welcome to the Department of State Ljubco Georgievski, the Prime Minister of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
The Prime Minister and I have just completed a very good meeting, in which we discussed the US-Macedonian relationship, which is also very good, and issues related to the crisis in Kosovo.
It is vital that Americans understand what is occurring in Macedonia. From time to time, in the history of our country, unrest across our borders or near our shores has led to a sudden influx of migrants and refugees. The results have been very difficult for the affected communities and a challenge to our entire nation.
Consider, then, the impact of the presence of 250,000 refugees on a small nation such as Macedonia. It is the equivalent of more than 30 million refugees arriving in the United States. On its own, no nation could cope with such an influx.
In our meeting today, the Prime Minister and I discussed the effort to respond to the humanitarian needs of the refugees and to the strains that have been placed on his own government and his people.
We discussed the importance of keeping the border open to those fleeing Milosevic's repression in Kosovo, and of making sure that refugees are treated in accordance with international norms. We reviewed efforts to reduce the burden on Macedonia, both through assistance and by helping refugees to move voluntarily to other locations, including the United States.
I assured the Prime Minister of NATO's determination to create the conditions in Kosovo as soon as possible under which the refugees will be able to return safely to their homes, and of the allied commitment to play a core role in that effort. To that end, our diplomatic efforts continue, as does the military pressure against Belgrade.
I also thanked the Prime Minister for his country's hospitality to NATO forces that are working to address the humanitarian crisis and prepare for the day the current confrontation comes to an end.
In that regard, I am pleased to report that Macedonia has agreed to accept the larger NATO peacekeeping force that is now being prepared. For our part, we will work to see that Macedonia continues to receive full political and economic support it needs in these very difficult times.
As we look to the future, we know that Macedonia must play a key part in the democratic and prosperous Southeast Europe we are striving with our allies and partners to build. Macedonia has earned its standing through its commitment to democracy and by proving every day that a multiethnic society in the Balkans can work.
In closing, I would like to thank the Prime Minister again for his visit, and to express both my desire and expectation that we will continue to work together very closely in the days ahead.
Thank you. Mr. Minister.
PRIME MINISTER GEORGIEVSKI: (In Macedonian. Translation through interpreter) I would like to say, first of all, that we are very pleased that within six months we are meeting Mrs. Albright for the third time.
The first two times as a sign of wonderful cooperation between the United States and Macedonia.
While the third meeting is at a time of a difficult situation, especially for the Republic of Macedonia.
However, we are very grateful, for the whole of this period, for the moral support that we are getting from the United States. That is, since the independence until today. And especially at this difficult situation.
I think that Macedonia responds properly to this, being, for a decade, a successful and stable country in the region. And with the support of the United States, I believe that we shall continue to be the same in the future period.
As it concerns the Kosovo crisis, I have to say that we, as a country that has a very clear foreign policy on the issue, support the United States in the efforts to end the crisis as soon as possible.
We stressed the fact that for 80 years, practically, Macedonia was a Serbian colony, and we know well their extremism. And we presented the fact that even today, Milosevic does not recognize the frontier line between the two countries with Macedonia.
Beside the political support we provide for the NATO operation, I think that we participate in the operation as no other country does, in a certain way. First, hosting the 16,000 NATO troops. And now, according to the latest request by Mr. Solana, I believe that this figure will rise up to 30,000.
So on one side we are going to show our preparedness to cooperate with NATO even more now. And there is also one fact there that in this way, we are going to have twice more NATO soldiers than we have of our own troops.
We have discussed also what we call the refugee crisis.
We have stressed the fact again that Macedonia, together with Albania, are the two countries that are most pressed with this crisis. We stressed the fact also that with all the problems that have been following in these two months, we had over 330,000 refugees crossing into our country. Which is about 16 percent to 17 percent of the overall population of Macedonia. And this speaks of the burden that we had to sustain during this period. Even at this moment, we have daily about 300 to 500 refugees crossing. But I believe we shall see no more such big waves of refugees as we had at the beginning.
At the end, we have expressed the facts of the economic situation in Macedonia, which is becoming ever more critical by every day. And we have underlined that there should be some more serious economic assistance coming to Macedonia, so that we can be prepared to see the end of this crisis, this war, and to be ready to see the peace.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, I don't know if the Prime Minister referred to it in your conversations, but there seems to be concern in Macedonia that the build-up of NATO troops could foreshadow using Macedonia as a launch pad for a ground invasion of Yugoslavia to end the war, of course, to bring Milosevic down finally. Is that possible? Is there a need for concern? In fact, did he bring it up at all?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, first of all, we talked generally about the importance of Macedonia providing support for this larger KFOR force. And as I said and he has said, they have accepted that responsibility, and they know that the whole purpose of this is in order to get the refugees to go back. We did not discuss anything beyond that.
QUESTION: (Through interpreter) Mrs. Albright, Prime Minister Georgievski said that you have discussed economic assistance to alleviate the situation in Macedonia. But what is this actual assistance -- how much is it and when is it coming?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Yes. First of all, we have been providing assistance, but the Kosovo -- the supplemental that has just been passed by Congress does, in fact, provide $22 million in economic assistance and $15 million in technical assistance. We also have been making quite clear that it is important for both those who are supplying the refugee camps as well as for the NATO contingent there to be making use of the local economy and "buying local." We discussed that because we do understand the very heavy burdens that have been placed on the Macedonian economy.
We also talked about the importance of the future, and having Macedonia participate fully as we set up the stability pact and the various initiatives that are now in place to try to make sure that, ultimately, the Balkans are a part of the Euro-Atlantic community.
QUESTION: I have two questions. Madame Secretary, could you please explain the significant development that has taken place now with President Ahtisaari and Viktor Chernomyrdin headed to Belgrade? What happened overnight? Have the Russians moved closer to accepting what NATO has said for the international security force with NATO at its core? And then I have a question for the Prime Minister.
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, let me say that we are very encouraged by the fact that Mr. Chernomyrdin and President Ahtisaari have been able to have sufficient agreement on the various aspects that we've been talking about for a political solution with the Serbs, that they were able to go to Belgrade.
They are going there in order to elaborate and explain the various conditions and terms that are necessary. We believe that this is a significant step forward.
Of course, now the big question that remains to be answered is how Milosevic will react. The ball is in his court, once this elaboration of the conditions has been presented. And we're just going to have to see how he reacts to it.
I think that there has been, all along, a great effort being made by us and the Russians to be able to come closer and closer together. We very much appreciate the work that Mr. Chernomyrdin and President Ahtisaari, along with my deputy, Strobe Talbott, to bring this process further and further along.
QUESTION: If I may, Madame Secretary -- hasn't the ball always been in Milosevic's court? Can you offer us any details or any example as to how the Russians have moved forward such that one US official said that they'll be reading from the same script?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: Well, I think they are going to be reading from the same script. I think that is important. And as we have said, there has been sufficient agreement on the various aspects of this in order for them to be able to take this trip together.
I think that the fact that they are going together with that much agreement is a significant step forward.
QUESTION: Mr. Prime Minister, a question for you. Should the situation change regarding KFOR, and there's a necessity for a non-permissive ground invasion, would your country be willing to host a NATO ground invasion from your territory without Milosevic's approval or without the Russians' approval?
PRIME MINISTER GEORGIEVSKI: (Through Interpreter) I have to say that in the Republic of Macedonia, there is a parliamentary position that its territory should not be used for attacks on any of the neighbors. And I have to remind you that this is not only Macedonia but the Balkans that have the same position. The same position is held by Greece, who is a member of NATO --Italy, who is also a member -- sorry Hungary, that is a member of NATO and Bulgaria. That is the present position.
Certainly if it comes to change in the NATO position to use ground troops, we will be following the debate and discussions that will occur in Western countries and the United States. And when the proposal comes, we have to put the proposal to the Macedonian parliament again.
This means that we have to discuss this again, and in case there is such a need to come to a change of the position of NATO, we shall have many more information and details beforehand to be able to develop it.
QUESTION: Madame Secretary, given the progress in the last 24 hours, is it fair to conclude that Mr. Chernomyrdin is traveling to Belgrade essentially to argue for the five conditions that NATO long ago set down as terms for ending the conflict?
SECRETARY ALBRIGHT: I think that what is fair to say is that Mr. Chernomyrdin has worked very hard with President Ahtisaari and Mr. Talbott to come to a position where there is sufficient agreement on the various conditions and principles for them to go together and present the case.
I think that it is -- the purpose of this trip is not a negotiation, but an elaboration and explanation of the positions, and to say one more time that what is significant about what has happened is that there is sufficient agreement for these two important diplomats to go to Belgrade together.
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