21:05 GMT23 January 2021
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    BELGRADE (Sputnik) - NATO is ready to welcome Macedonia as a new member and the decision is now up to the Macedonians to make, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday on a visit to Skopje.

    "You decide your own future; that's only for you to decide… what I can say is that NATO is ready to have you as the 30th member of the alliance," Stoltenberg said, as quoted by the NATO press release.

    Stoltenberg added that NATO appreciated the partnership with Macedonia. Macedonian Minister of Defense Radmila Sekerinska, in turn, remarked that 4,000 Macedonian troops have participated in NATO operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in other missions.

    READ MORE: NATO Sees Russia's Vostok 2018 Drills as Preparation For Conflict — Spokesman

    Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, in his turn, said that Macedonia aspired to attain membership in the European Union and NATO, but wanted to maintain friendly relations with Russia as well.

    "There is no other alternative for our country apart from the full membership in NATO and the European Union. We are a small state, our aim is to build friendly relations with everyone, including Russia, and I hope that our citizens will be free to choose their future," Zaev said.

    Earlier in the day, the alliance chief attended the inauguration of "Stoltenberg street," honoring his father, a Norwegian diplomat who took part in rebuilding Skopje after the 1963 earthquake.

    The path for Macedonia to join NATO was cleared when Skopje and Athens in June signed the agreement on a new name for Macedonia, the Republic of Northern Macedonia. Until then, Greece had objected to the neighbor's use of Macedonia, similar to the name of a region in Greece. Athens' objections precluded Macedonia from beginning talks on joining NATO or the European Union.


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