Interview With Alsat TV

Victoria Nuland
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs
Skopje, Macedonia
July 13, 2015

Question: First of all, thank you for the interview. We heard your statement after the meeting with Prime Minister Gruevski so I would go further on with questions. Was there a concrete proposal that was discussed today at the meetings with the stakeholders in Skopje?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, as you know, the formal negotiations to settle the political crisis are being facilitated by EU Commissioner Hahn with our support, so we will wait until he comes tomorrow for concrete efforts to formally close the gaps. I was here today to make clear how important it is to the United States that the parties work together and solve this political crisis so we can get back to the important work that we’ve been doing together for more than 20 years, supporting Macedonia’s democratic trajectory, supporting your efforts to really bring rule of law here, bring economic growth here, and most importantly, to complete your progress on your Euro-Atlantic trajectory to the EU and NATO. So we did get into the details of some of the open issues, but it was in the spirit of trying to prepare the way for good conversation tomorrow.

Question: One of those open issues, as it is described in the 2nd of June agreement, is organization of the government that will prepare the next elections. Did you discuss this issue with your interlocutors in Skopje?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: We did discuss various options with all of the key party leaders, with the Prime Minister, with Mr. Zaev, with Mr. Ahmeti, just now with Mr. Thaci.

Question: Do you have a personal opinion on that issue?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: We will support anything that can gain consensus and can be within the framework of what’s already been agreed. Much of the work was already completed as you know on June 2nd, so we’re down to just a few issues. So we were just simply trying to help the parties hear each other in advance of the formal negotiations that Commissioner Hahn will conduct.

Question: There are critics going primarily towards Brussels but also towards the U.S. that your main goal is an urgent resolution of the crisis and not the substance of the problem, you know, that your focus is on the process itself and not on the substance of the problems that are also mentioned in the Progress Reports of the European Commission, in the Human Rights Reports of the State Department, that became more obvious with the revealed wiretaps. So from your perspective, what is more important – holding elections next year or ensuring those elections to be free and fair?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Obviously, nobody wants to see an election unless it’s going to be free and fair. I think this entire chapter has exposed the need for a more free media environment here, for addressing the electoral issues that the OSCE identified, for a system of rule of law that everybody can have confidence in. So, these are the issues that are also being looked at in the context of the June 2nd agreement. It’s about having not simply a new election but the cleanest, strongest, most democratic Macedonia going forward.

Question: Along that line, there is a dilemma in a part of the public here – what is more important for Washington and Brussels, stability of the country or the freedom and the democracy in the country?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: We don’t think there will be stability unless there is freedom, democracy, fairness, and growth. So we think these things go hand in hand and particularly in a country with the challenges of multi-ethnicity that you have in Macedonia. You have to have a system that people have confidence in.

Question: There are cases that are in the courts already, against the leader of the opposition, and there is, I can say, no word from the prosecution whether they have started or are investigating the cases that became obvious with the revealed wiretaps. What’s your opinion about that? How important is it to investigate the alleged wrongdoings, election fraud, criminal activities, corruption made by the government officials?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, I’m not going to get into specific cases, I think that would be inappropriate, but as I said, establishing confidence in the judicial system for all Macedonians, regardless of their political party, is absolutely essential. That’s part of this crisis – that folks don’t have confidence in the system. So, part of the resolution has to be addressing the judicial issues along with going forward to investigate fully the allegations that come out of the scandal.

Question: There were many talks in the public that this crisis could not be resolved without involvement of the U.S. diplomacy at a higher level. Is there any consideration of that direction, maybe to appoint a special representative like in 2001?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Well, as you know, we are working hand in glove with the European Union and this is how we operate best in the Balkan context, when the United States and our key European partners all work together to support countries that are having troubles, that are having difficulties, that are having challenges. That’s what we’ve done over the years, whether it was in Bosnia or Kosovo, or the Ohrid Agreement. When we are together in support of you and we are trying to hear the needs of all parties, that’s when we provide the most support. So that’s why in this case, our Ambassador here, Jess Baily, is working hand in glove with Commissioner Hahn. I’m also working with Commissioner Hahn. We spoke before I came in. We’ll speak again. If we need higher level U.S. intervention here in support of that process, then we will obviously bring it, as will Commissioner Hahn, I’m sure. But, what we really want is for Macedonians to roll up their sleeves and close these last gaps so that the country can get back to the business of its democratic course, and so we can get back to the business of helping you prepare for your NATO aspiration.

Question: So, let’s conclude the interview. If I’m right, you said first let’s ensure environment for free and fair elections, and then hold the elections. Am I right?

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Absolutely. That is what is in this agreement that your leaders are working on, and that’s what we want to see completed. And we hope that tomorrow will be a very, very good day and that everybody will come to the table ready to finalize the deal. That‘s what is in the best interest of Macedonia, and in the interest of a strong trans-Atlantic trajectory for your country.

Question: Thank you for the interview.

Assistant Secretary Nuland: Thank you.