Nuland: I’m encouraged that a political deal will be reached soon

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US Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said she is leaving encouraged following her meetings on Monday with the leaders of the four largest parties in Macedonia, where they discussed moving ahead with the political agreement and preparing early elections.

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Nikola Gruevski, leader of the ruling VMRO-DPMNE party, said that he agrees on holding elections which he sees as the only way out of the crisis, but asked for guarantees that the opposition SDSM party will take part in the vote this time. During his meeting with Nuland, SDSM leader Zoran Zaev urged for further reforms that will ensure the elections are credible, and raised the prospect of holding them in November.

“The US as you know has been very proud to work alongside the EU with all the political forces here to try to overcome the political crisis of the last year, resulting in the Przino Agreement. There has obviously been some progress to implement those agreements, but now it is time to complete the work and set Macedonia on the course for free and fair elections. The major parties have been talking about how to get to elections for some time even before I arrived. Today I saw all four major party leaders and I must say that I leave Skopje encouraged by what I’ve heard and that in coming days we hope the negotiating teams can join around the ideas that are on the table now and chart a course toward elections”, said Nuland. Elections were provided in the political agreement reached with the support of the European Union last summer, but they were postponed and then cancelled, after SDSM refused to participate. This led to the removal of SDSM nominated members in the Government that was tasked with organizing elections. The parties are disputing largely over the ways to verify the voting registry and over media regulation.

In a press release, VMRO-DPMNE said that they want to see the opposition take part in this new attempt to organize early elections. “Gruevski stressed that elections are the only way out of the political crisis that was imposed by the opposition, which also needs to accept to take part in them in order to avoid creating new excuses for their postponement. VMRO-DPMNE said that our top priority is progress in integration processes, NATO membership and intensive reforms related to the EU”, said VMRO-DPMNE in its press release.

During his meeting with Nuland, Zaev asked for a return of his representatives in the Government, in order to hold elections in November. “Interlocutors agreed that a clean voters list and objective media reporting are required conditions, which fulfillment could lead to early elections in the course of November. Talks also referred to the necessity of establishing a government that would organize and administer regular elections, a government composed in compliance with all aspects of the Przino Agreement”, SDSM said in their press release.

Assistant Secretary Nuland added that a second reason for her visit was to give support for judicial reforms, and for the recently created office of a Special Prosecutor, which is tasked with investigating the cache of wiretaps which SDSM has been distributing since early 2015 and which caused the political crisis. “I also had a chance to see Ms Janeva and her team. Her work is vitally important to bringing true rule of law, accountability and a clean justice system to this country, something that is absolutely essential if Macedonia is to achieve its Euro-Atlantic objectives to reach its goal of being an EU and NATO member, something that the US has long supported”, said Nuland. Asked by the press about a request by SDSM that, on top of a Special Prosecutor, there also needs to be a special court, Nuland said that there are ideas out there, but that it is important for the system to be clean, accountable and effective. Nuland was also asked about the possibility of some kind of sanctions for Macedonia if there is no political agreement, and responded that she hopes the situation is resolved so there is no need to go in that direction.

Ali Ahmeti and Menduh Thaci, leaders of the ethnic Albanian parties DUI and DPA, expressed their gratitude for the American support in resolving the crisis. Assistant Secretary Nuland also met with journalists and civil group representatives.c