Ambassador Aggeler Interview with TV24

Ambassador Aggeler Interview with TV24
February 1, 2024


TV24:  Ambassador, thank you for your time and the conversation.

Ambassador Aggeler:
Thank you, Lepa, glad to see you.

TV24: In North Macedonia there are constantly new developments and new challenges occurring.  We are awaiting double elections in May, we have a technical government but at the very start the government has demonstrated a huge division.  VMRO-DPMNE did not vote for the technical government, its ministers did not show up for the joint photo-op.  How do you expect such a divided government to function?

Ambassador Aggeler: 
I expect that every government works on behalf of its people.  Yes, it was disappointing that VMRO-DPMNE did not vote for the government.  However, they did put ministers into the appropriate slots and deputy ministers into other ministries and so it is my hope that the technical government will continue to work for the best interests of the citizens of this country and thus far, they have shown that they will do so.  So, I just hope they continue.

TV24:  Do you plan meetings with the technical prime minister and the new ministers, particularly the interior minister ahead of the elections and what will you tell them?

Ambassador Aggeler:  I am looking forward to seeing the technical prime minister later this week.  And I will certainly see the various ministers, both new and those who had previously been in place as our work requires it because here at the Embassy, our work has not changed or stopped because of the technical government.  So, I and the whole team here will continue to engage with the various ministers and ministries in support of the many programs and activities that we have moving forward.

TV24:  What are your expectations about the May elections?  The opposition, even from the Parliament floor warned its ministers about bribe.

Ambassador Aggeler:  It is very much my hope that as we move towards May that we see that the process goes forward with transparency.  The people of this country deserve to understand the process.  Even though there are various allegations of what one party will do or what another party will do, the citizens and voters of this country need to ask hard questions of the candidates and they need to hold them and those around them accountable for how we move forward.  So, this is not the first time I have been through elections in this country and there are always allegations and, frankly, unkind things that are said from one party to another, and my hope is that the process will just move forward in a way that is transparent, free, and fair.

TV24:  There are rumors in the public that it is the United States that insists on the SDSM-DUI coalition to continue together for the elections.  People also openly talk about a non-paper for the ethnic Albanian political bloc not to coalesce with a certain political party in the first six months after the elections.  Does this mean the technical government to continue to function until it can, the new Parliament to adopt the constitutional changes, and only then a new political government to be formed?

Ambassador Aggeler:  This is a country that seems to produce more rumors than any other perhaps that I have ever served in. One thing that I can tell you and all of your viewers very definitively: I and my team here, we do not tell people what to do.  The decisions of the different parties and the party leaders, and Government officials is up to them and it should be, because while we’re very invested in this country and its future, it’s not our country and so, what I hope and what I continue to tell leaders of all the parties is: ‘Please make the right decision to move this country forward on its European aspirations. President Mickoski would tell you that I have had that same conversation with him. We will continue to work on that part.  What effect this has, how long the technical government will last is something that I won’t speculate about.  I hope very much for the people of this country and for the good of this country that after May 9th  there is a clear decision so that the governing and governance of this country can move forward, but I can’t speculate on what might actually happen.

TV24:  You mentioned the leader of the opposition, Mickoski. In the pre-election program, VMRO-DPMNE announces new solutions with Bulgaria.  Will you ask Mickoski to show you that plan?

Ambassador Aggeler:  If he would like to share that with me, I’d be very happy to see it.  But I think it’s far more important for the voters and people of this country to see and hear about that plan, and hear about the details of any plan to resolve ongoing issues with other countries, with the challenges within the country and, indeed, and again, I hope that the voters of this country demand of all of the candidates to understand very clearly what their plans are for the future and how they hope to implement them.

TV24:  You send messages that the country must continue on the EU path and that it is on the right path.  We have the negotiating framework by which we have to adopt the constitutional changes.  If we do not change the Constitution, will it affect the U.S.-North Macedonia relations?

Ambassador Aggeler:  Our relationship, our partnership, our strategic partnership with this country is not dependent on that.  Will we be disappointed? Absolutely.  But this partnership that we have with North Macedonia is something that has been in place since this country’s independence, and it will continue.  You’re a NATO Ally and that doesn’t change.  And so, that relationship is strong, and I promise you that we will do everything in our power here at the U.S. Embassy every day to help this country meet its European aspirations.

TV24:  In the recent period, Macedonia was visited by Assistant Secretary James O’Brien.  He sent concrete messages regarding elections, and the steps the country should take.  Did he try to sketch the contours of the future government coalition, and whether the vision that he mentioned corresponds with the reality, considering criticisms about influence on the judiciary here?

Ambassador Aggeler:  First of all, I think his comments speak for themselves.  He is one of our most experienced and knowledgeable diplomats and particularly here in the Balkans.  He has spent a lot of time here, including in this country.  He understands the dynamics here.  He understands the regional challenges here, and he genuinely cares about what happens with this country and with the region.  He is, please remember, also the Assistant Secretary for all of Europe and so, while he has spent, and we’ve been very lucky to have him here twice in the last several months, his attention is pulled in many, many different directions.  First of all, with Russia and Ukraine and that will continue and so, he is not solely focused on what is happening here and he does not craft his messages, I think, for all of Europe focused on which messages are received by party leaders here.

TV24:  The fight against corruption is one of the key reforms that not only the United States, but also the European Union have called for at almost all press conferences.  It is noted in the reports  of the European Commission, in the conclusions of the European Council, it is part of the development plan that you have also supported.  How has it happened that the U.S. has assumed perhaps the leading role in the fight against corruption in the country?

Ambassador Aggeler:  Because it’s something that’s of intense concern here in this country.  The work that we do here and partnerships that we build, our activities, our programs, our assistance is focused on the priorities that we share with this country and its citizens.  Even before I came, before my confirmation hearing before the Senate, because I have many friends here, I had heard about the real concerns around corruption, as had my predecessors.   The reason why I speak about it and why my team speaks about it and the United States and leaders in Washington speak about it is because it’s a concern we hear every day.  It is frankly a cancer that is holding back progress in this country.  It’s something we have to talk about.  And the people of this country deserve to have leaders and officials and those within the health, the education, the judicial sectors working on their behalf and working in a way that is transparent, and holding those who do not follow the rules and who are engaging in activity that is criminal corruption for their own benefit to be held accountable.

TV24:  You mentioned the health system.  In the past couple of days the public is shaken by the Oncology Clinic case.  How would you comment on it?

Ambassador Aggeler:  I am glad you asked, because frankly, this is the latest and horrific example, potentially, based on the allegations that we have seen and the charges that have been brought initially, and the stories that we have all heard, that there were individuals acting for their own personal gain literally at the cost of human lives.  People died and it is absolutely critical that the prosecutor and the system looks into what happens and makes a decision that is based on the law.  Should there be criminal activity and criminal corruption, then those who engaged in it should not only be deeply ashamed of themselves, but they should be held criminally accountable.

TV24:  The blacklist- the United States and you have said that it would evolve, grow and expand.  Here in the country the Foreign Ministry presented the law on restrictive measure.  You said you would not comment on it, but do you consider it to be a sufficient step?

Ambassador Aggeler:  Let me first say, it hasn’t passed yet, so we don’t know ultimately what the law will look like.  As I said I think last week, we welcome any effort, and any law, and any activity that holds people accountable, those that we have designated for corruption.  We very much welcome the initiative for this country’s leadership, and judiciary, and prosecutors, and law enforcement to look into those as well, because people should be held accountable.  Again, we don’t have law enforcement authorities here nor would that ever be appropriate, but we welcome the initiative and I think, based on what I’ve heard from people around this country, they welcome it as well.  However, passing a law in and of itself doesn’t change anything.  You have to implement that law and after it is, hopefully, passed what I hope very much is that the judicial sector will then act, that prosecutors and investigators will do what they are hired to do and follow up and see if, indeed, they find evidence, as have we of wrongdoing.

TV24:  Can we expect new names on the blacklist before the elections in May?

Ambassador Aggeler:  That’s probably the question I get asked most frequently in this country.  I don’t know whether or not there will be any before May.  There very well could be, but what I can say is there are numerous names under consideration and the designations will continue.

TV24:  Besa Ademi continues to serve as the president of the Constitutional Court, although one party was fully committed to finding a way to remove her from there.  We all heard the statement that was sent.  Do you think that this is a small victory for justice?

Ambassador Aggeler:  I would suggest that it is probably a victory for process.  One can argue whether or not justice was served.  The one belief that I had was that the basis for removing her that was being considered, that was suggested, was specious, it was a little ridiculous.  If there are reasons to believe that a judge should be removed then, non-attending meetings does not seem to be the appropriate  reason for that.  So, for her or any other member of the bench in this country if there are allegations of wrongdoing, pursue them, investigate them, look into them. But, I do think that the result was positive and I applaud the Council for reaching it.  Again, I hope that judges, that the Judicial Council, that prosecutors, that all members of the judiciary do their jobs and do it in an honest way that people can understand

TV24:  Are you concerned that these pressures in the judiciary can spread on all that do not think alike?

Ambassador Aggeler:  This is a scourge for this country.  An influence on the judiciary is something that has been a reality for years, for decades.  It is something that people recognize and understand.  And I have found, and I hope this is a pattern, that increasingly people are speaking up, including those in some of those critical offices.  Sometimes those are quiet conversations that they are having with us here at the Embassy, with members of my team, sometimes they’re being more vocal about it.  And I applaud those who are willing to speak up and make the right decision that is based on law and not based on influence from anyone else around the country.

TV24:  To what extent this political voluntarism and violence endangers the strategic interests of the U.S.?

Ambassador Aggeler:  I would say that it is more part of your strategic security end priorities.  Of course, we want to support a free and transparent and fully independent judiciary.  That is something that we hear about every day as well, that those who within the judiciary want to do the right thing want to behave in a way that is independent.  It hurts no one more than this country and its citizens.  And so, is it in our strategic interest?  Absolutely, but not as greatly as it is in yours.

TV24:  We started the interview with the May elections.  How the U.S. will help in fighting the Russian influence ahead of the upcoming elections?

Ambassador Aggeler: I was asked this question last week at another event in the Ministry of Education.  I assume, as I said then, that there is Russian influence, there is across the region and we’re aware of it.  The question is whether or not, regardless of that influence, whether it’s through media, whether it’s through advertising, whether it’s through social media, trolls, what the people here do, what the voters decide to do with that.  And the only way you can combat disinformation is by educating yourself.  Frankly, we have these challenges in the United States and so, it is important for voters to demand of the candidates their detailed plans for the future and then that those voters, after educating themselves, vote.  They must vote.  They must get out there and choose the candidate that reflects their dreams for the future because this can’t be something that just happens by accident and nothing will be achieved by not voting, by staying home.  I know there are a lot of voters in this country who have said ‘I give up, I’m not going to vote’.  That’s not the right answer.

TV24: Thank you for the interview.

Ambassador Aggeler: Thank you so much.

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