Defense Secretary James N. Mattis praised Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev today, saying the country is a “stabilizing force” in the Balkans.
Mattis made a lightning visit to Skopje and met with Zaev, President Gjorge Ivanov and Defense Minister Radmila Shekerinska. It was the secretary’s first visit to the country.
Mattis arrived as the nation prepares for a vote on whether to change its formal name from the Republic of Macedonia to the Republic of North Macedonia. The name change is a result of negotiations with neighboring Greece that both prime ministers signed in June in Prespa, Macedonia. Greece has blocked Macedonia from joining NATO and the European Union under its current name, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.
The vote will clear the way for the country to join NATO, a move Russia strongly opposes.
“The Prespa Agreement, alongside key reforms you are implementing under your strategic defense review, unlocks your NATO accession process and allows you, our Macedonian friends, to determine your own future in institutions made up of like-minded countries,” Mattis told the prime minister.
The secretary said that in joining NATO, the country would “gain an equal seat at the table of the most successful military alliance in history, alongside 29 other countries committed to protect…