Minister of Defense Fatmir Besimi met today with U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta at the Pentagon, concluding the Republic of Macedonia’s annual bilateral defense consultations with the U.S. Government.
The top defense officials exchanged views on regional peace and security, Macedonia’s progress in implementing defense reforms, and its ongoing preparations for NATO membership. The strategic partnership between the U.S. and the Republic of Macedonia was underscored as being critical for maintaining stability in southeastern Europe. Minister Besimi and Secretary Panetta also discussed the situation in Afghanistan, where Macedonia is the fifth-largest per capita ISAF troop contributor and serves as the lead force protecting the NATO/ISAF headquarters in Kabul. Minister Besimi expressed his government’s gratitude for Secretary Panetta’s praise for the invaluable contributions of Macedonian troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
According to a U.S. Department of Defense release, Pentagon Press Secretary George Little said: “Secretary Panetta told Minster Besimi that he looks forward to the country’s future accession to NATO. The two leaders also exchanged ideas on regional relations in Southeastern Europe and how to preserve critical capabilities in the current budget environment, particularly NATO smart defense initiatives. Both leaders look forward to continued dialogue in the future.”
Both officials expressed their commitment to NATO’s “Open Door” policy, with membership possible for all European democracies that meet the necessary qualifications. Minister Besimi expressed Macedonia’s eagerness to contribute to current and future NATO missions as a member of the Alliance.
Also discussed were projects helping to prepare the Republic of Macedonia for full NATO integration, including coordination with the A-5 Adriatic group, Macedonia’s contribution to the Military Police School for the Afghan National Army and the creation of Balkan Regional approach to air defense (BRAAD), and Macedonia’s regional leadership in coordinating “Smart Defense” projects in southeastern Europe. Hi-Res photos available at: http://www.defense.gov/photoessays/photoessayss.aspx?id=2791.
Defense Minister Besimi traveled to the Pentagon after two days in Vermont, where he hailed the cooperation between the Army of the Republic of Macedonia and the Vermont National Guard, which has been ongoing for nearly two decades. Major General Michael Dubie, the Adjutant General of the State of Vermont, introduced Minister Besimi to the Vermont State Legislature, where a Concurrent House Resolution (HCR 346) commemorated the continuing partnership between the Republic of Macedonia and the state of Vermont. Minister Besimi also met with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin.
The meeting with Secretary Panetta followed consultations last week with Celeste Wallander, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Europe and Eurasia.