Macedonia NATO delay would fuel radicals: Albania

BUCHAREST (Reuters) – A delay in inviting Macedonia to join NATO could encourage radicals and fuel instability in the Balkans, Albania’s prime minister said, urging compromise to allow a last-minute deal at an alliance summit on Wednesday.

Greece stood by its threat on Wednesday to veto NATO membership for ethnically mixed Macedonia despite pressure from U.S. President George W. Bush to resolve a name dispute.

NATO was due to consider Macedonia’s membership invitation along with that of Adriatic neighbors Croatia and Albania at a NATO summit dinner in Bucharest on Wednesday night.

Albanian Prime Minister Sali Berisha told Reuters he was “very confident” Albania would get an invitation and hoped a compromise could be reached between Greece and Macedonia.

He said a delay for Macedonia would be “a very serious problem” for the whole Balkans region.

“The stability of this neighbor is very crucial for Albania, for Kosovo, for Greece, to Bulgaria, to all its neighbors,” he said in an interview.

“My fear is that radicals from all ethnicities there (in Macedonia) could be strengthened,” he said. “Both sides have to compromise. I am convinced both countries have some reason to compromise. I hope that they will find a compromise.”

Athens has said it will prevent Skopje joining unless it changes its constitutional name, which is the same as Greece’s northernmost province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.

Macedonia uses its chosen name in bilateral ties with many states but is called “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” at the United Nations, and by NATO and the European Union.

U.N. negotiators have suggested a compromise, Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), but it was not accepted by Greece. Athens would accept a name such as Republic of New Macedonia or one with a geographical distinction.

GUARANTEE OF FREEDOMS

NATO urgently wants a solution for the sake of stability in the Balkans, already threatened by Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17.

Balkans experts told a conference in Bucharest there was a risk Macedonia could unravel if it did not get NATO membership and warned of knock-on effects in Kosovo and Albania.

NATO and EU reconciliation efforts pulled Macedonia from the brink of all-out ethnic war in 2001, ending a six-month Albanian insurgency with the promise of greater rights for the country’s 25-percent Albanian minority.

Analysts say the worry is that the ethnic compromises could unravel if the anchor provided by the prospect of NATO and eventual EU membership were not there.

Berisha said NATO would be a guarantee of freedoms for Albania, a country that was until the collapse of the communist regime of Enver Hoxha, the last Stalinist state in Europe.

“This for Albania means the most important decision after its independence,” he said.

“Being in NATO, it’s a guarantee for freedoms. Having a guarantee for freedoms, you have a guarantee for the future.”

He said Albania had shown itself to be a reliable ally for NATO, providing troops for missions from Afghanistan to the Balkans, and would help secure Europe’s southeastern flank.

“Together with Greece and Italy, Albania, Macedonia and Croatia bring a new dimension to the NATO security,” he said.

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