US Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Daniel Fried was in Skopje on Thursday (March 8th) to deliver a message of support for Macedonia's NATO and EU ambitions, and to urge the country to proceed with reforms.
"The United States wants Macedonia to be the strongest candidate for NATO," Fried said. "The president and the prime minister know what the challenges are and what should be done."
The US diplomat met with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, President Branko Crvenkovski and with leaders of the opposition Social Democrats and Democratic Union for Integration, Radmila Sekerinska and Ali Ahmeti, respectively. His visit was part of a regional tour that also included stops in Belgrade and Pristina.
Macedonia has a long road ahead in terms of tackling corruption and organised crime, as well as implementing the Ohrid Agreement and reforming the economy, Fried said. "That should be done in the next six months because NATO will then make a review of the candidates' achievements."
Gruevski assured him that Macedonia was aware of the homework it needs to do. "This year, the government will invest a lot of energy in the reforms," he pledged. "We also believe that all relevant political parties will contribute to and invest in Macedonia's preparation for the EU and NATO membership."
He also stressed the country's contribution to peacekeeping and stabilisation missions, and to the war against terror. "Macedonia will continue to be a part of the fight against global terrorism and we are staying with our partners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Bosnia," he said.
Fried was in Skopje one day after the US House of Representatives adopted a bill supporting the accession to NATO of Macedonia, Georgia, Ukraine, Albania and Croatia.
The resolution reiterates US support for the continued enlargement of the Alliance "to democracies that are able and willing to meet the responsibilities of membership".
It specifically calls for "the timely admission of Albania, Croatia, Georgia, and Macedonia to NATO" and authorises security assistance for these countries this year.