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Powell Promises US Support for Macedonian Membership in NATO - 2003-11-25

Secretary of State Colin Powell has promised U.S. support for efforts by Macedonia to gain membership in NATO and other Euro-Atlantic institutions. Mr. Powell met Tuesday with a senior Macedonian delegation, headed by Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski.

Macedonia was hard-hit by a refugee crisis from the Kosovo conflict in the late 1990's and an uprising by ethnic-Albanians in 2001.

But the former Yugoslav republic has been able to restore domestic security and economic growth, and Mr. Crvenkovski is in Washington making the case for U.S. support for its drive for eventual full membership in NATO and the European Union.

He received a sympathetic hearing from Secretary Powell, who at a joint press appearance with Mr. Crvenkovski hailed Macedonian support in the U-S-led war on terrorism, and said that country's leaders can expect backing from Washington for its drive for integration with the rest of Europe:

"I know that they are anxious to get the right kind of political signals from the United States and from the rest of the NATO allies," he said. "And we look forward to the day when Macedonia is fully integrated, as the Prime Minister said, into all of the Euro-Atlantic structures and we'll be working toward that end. How it comes about, and at what pace remains to be determined and of course there are standards that have to be met in order to have membership in these structures."

Mr. Powell noted that Macedonia has military contingents working alongside U-S forces in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and said while the number of troops in both cases is small, "the symbolism is huge."

He said a milestone in the country's own security situation will come December 15, when a European peacekeeping force is withdrawn, leaving Macedonia without an international military presence for the first time in a number of years.

Mr. Crvenkovski, for his part, described Macedonia as a "stable and reliable partner" for the United States. He said he reviewed for Mr. Powell his government's progress in implementing the peace deal brokered by U.S. and European Union officials that ended the civil conflict two years ago.

He told Washington reporters Monday, the Macedonian parliament had adopted the necessary constitutional changes to protect ethnic-Albanians and will act soon on the remaining objective, the de-centralization of political power to give more authority to local governments.