De Hoop Scheffer says NATO ready to welcome Western Balkan countries

SKOPJE, Macedonia

NATO will keep its doors open to countries in the Western Balkans, outgoing Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer pledged on Friday (May 8th) during a visit to Skopje.

Western Balkans’ NATO membership is the only feasible way to achieve “long-lasting peace and security” in the region, he said after talks with President Branko Crvenkovski and Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski.

Noting that the longstanding name dispute between Skopje and Athens remains the only obstacle to Macedonia’s full NATO membership, he urged both sides to resolve the issue. “Unfortunately NATO can’t play any role in this matter. We wish to see it settled as soon as possible,” he said. Gruevski reaffirmed his country’s commitment to NATO and EU membership, and pledged the government will continue pro-NATO reforms.

Earlier Friday, de Hoop Scheffer attended a meeting of foreign ministers of the Adriatic Charter member states — Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia and Montenegro — in Tirana. The participants discussed integration and development prospects, strengthening co-operation, and regional security. They also said they hope Serbia and Kosovo will soon join the Adriatic Charter, which aims to co-ordinate NATO membership preparations.

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