BRUSSELS, Belgium Macedonia expects NATO to invite it to join the alliance by 2008, and plans to fulfill all conditions for EU membership by 2012, the country's foreign minister said Friday.
"We are expecting a strong encouraging message" from NATO's upcoming summit next month in Riga, Latvia, Antonio Milososki said. "We expect realistically that we will be invited to join at the next enlargement summit in 2008."
Macedonia, Croatia and Albania, members of the so-called Adriatic group, are all hoping for early invitations to join NATO. The alliance has refused to set a date, but says expansion will feature strongly at its next summit scheduled for 2008.
Milososki, who was meeting with NATO ambassadors in Brussels, said his nation had already undertaken many of the reforms demanded by both NATO and the EU as a precondition for membership.
These included the establishment of a 6,800-member professional military service and participation in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia.
Milososki stressed that since dealing with an ethnic Albanian insurgency in 2001, the nation had become a model of good inter-communal relations for the entire Balkan region.
"We are showing the world that having different ethnic groups ... is not a disadvantage for democracy to succeed," said Milososki, who was named foreign minister after a change of government following elections two months ago.
The tiny Balkan nation applied for EU membership in March 2004 and was accepted as a candidate last year, after the European Commission praised its efforts in dealing with the 2001 rebellion.
Macedonia's government was aware of enlargement fatigue within the EU, which has been anxiously mulling the prospect of letting in Turkey — a poor, predominantly Islamic nation that has problems with human rights, Milososki said.
"We are happy we don't have 72 million inhabitants" like Turkey, he said, adding that he didn't think that would affect Macedonia.
The EU's "absorption capacity" will not be strained by the nation of 2 million people, Milososki said.