DAS Yee: Good afternoon everyone! Thank you for coming. I am very happy to be here today with Ambassador Baily and my colleagues from the Embassy. I have been here now almost two days and it has been a good occasion to meet with many people in the Government, also some members of the media, to talk about the very close relations and cooperation between the United States and Macedonia. It was a good occasion for me to reiterate what I know Ambassador Baily often does, which is to thank the government and people of Macedonia for the excellent cooperation we have in some extremely important issues, including the fight against terrorism. Our forces work together in Afghanistan on common efforts to combat the Islamic state and ISIL. We have many areas in which we are doing some extremely important work together, and we are very grateful to the government and people of Macedonia for that.
Of course, it was also a good opportunity to catch up on all the developments since I was last year in Skopje, almost a year ago. As you know last April, last spring when I was here, the political crisis was quite new and it was a challenge that we had working closely with your government and with the European Union to try to help progress towards an exit of this crisis. I am very pleased to note that a lot of positive steps have taken place since last April, in particular the signing of the Przino Agreement, and I was able to talk with government officials about the implementation of that Agreement. That includes, of course, the elections, which are now scheduled for June 5. The Embassy of the U.S., the EU, and other partners of Macedonia are continuing their support to the government and the parties and the institutions in Macedonia to ensure that the elections on June 5 will be as free and fair and credible as possible. We are providing support to the State Electoral Commission, we are providing regular feedback, advice to institutions and to the government, on how we see progress towards the elections on June 5, and we will continue to do so. I think we know based on the announcement Ambassador Baily together with his counterpart in the EU made on January 29, that we are looking very closely at some specific issues, and that includes the Voters’ List, which is in the process of being updated. We are very glad to see that some of the crosschecks of the Voters’ List have taken place.
We are also looking, of course, at media reforms and the role of media in ensuring a level playing field for elections during the pre-electoral period. We are also looking closely at the overall environment in which the voters will be able to vote freely. That, specifically, is the prevention of intimidation or undue pressure on voters we want to see. It is also, we hope, the maintenance of separation between the political parties and politicians, and on the other side the state. We feel there should be a very clear separation of these two.
So these are some of the issues we are following. We believe there is time to establish free and fair conditions for elections on June 5, and we will be continuously providing our opinion, our advice on what more needs to be done, and we look forward to ways that we can provide assistance.
Lastly, on Przino, let me just mention… One other aspect we are following of course is the work of the Special Prosecutor, whose work we believe is quite important in closing this chapter, this difficult chapter in Macedonian political history. We think it is very important for all the institutions, the government, and the parties to cooperate with the work of the Special Prosecutor, that her work be as non-political, as independent, as possible.
Lastly I want to say, we of course look to you, the members of the media and the important role that you play in ensuring that the environment during the campaign is one in which voters will have access to accurate information, of course – the diversity of views, but presented in a way so that voters will be able to make an informed decision about whom to vote for. Thank you very much.
Question: Will there be a new assessment on conditions for elections before June 5?
DAS Yee: Well, let me be clear. We have continuously assessed, we are continuously evaluating the situation. We are doing this because we are a very close partner of Macedonia. We consider ourselves to be a strategic partner and a close friend, and this is what friends are supposed to do and partners are supposed to do. We are supposed to help the government institutions to do their work, provide the necessary support, and part of that is providing feedback, not just once or twice between now and June, but on a regular basis. And we will be doing that.
Question: Did you recognize any attempts to sabotage the Przino Agreement, and if so, who is doing that?
DAS Yee: What we have noticed is that there are efforts being made now to implement the agreement. The parties understand the importance, the important stake that Macedonia has in the implementation of the agreement. It is not only about this commitment that the parties have made to each other, to the European Union, to the international community. It is about the future of Macedonia. Only with the implementation of this agreement will Macedonia be able to begin the next chapter of its efforts to integrate with the Euro-Atlantic community. Only by implementing the provisions of the Przino Agreement will Macedonia continue to have the strong support it needs to not only move forward in integration with the Euro-Atlantic community, but to strengthen its economy, to attract foreign investment, to attract more companies to come and create jobs and opportunities for young people. So, I think there are of course many different views about the best way to implement the agreement, but I sense that there is a commitment by the parties to implement it.
Question: Mr. Yee, you keep appealing to all the institutions and all the parties to respect the Special Prosecution and yet we have the SP complaining about lack of support from a lot of the institutions. What’s your comment about that?
DAS Yee: Well, again, we have in all of our meetings today and yesterday emphasized the importance of supporting the Special Prosecutor, supporting the rule of law, ensuring that all officials responsible for the crisis are held accountable for their actions in accordance with the rule of law, of course, in accordance with due process. So I think our message has been understood and heard by all the political parties. We expect them to support the Special Prosecutor. We will be watching, and when we see either violations or obstruction we will be providing our advice on how that needs to be addressed.
Question: While you were here last night, DUI staged a protest (against the cross in Butel). How dangerous is this for the Przino Agreement and the political situation?
DAS Yee: Well, I think it is difficult to talk about one incident in isolation. I think it is important that all the parties, all members of society, all ethnic groups, all members of different religions work together, work within their communities to foster greater mutual understanding, mutual respect, and tolerance. That should be the goal of not only political leaders but civil society, NGOs, heads of churches, and religions. The country now needs to be pulling together and working together towards a common goal of a better, brighter future, integrated in Europe, of a better environment for economic growth, of opportunities for young people. And these kinds of incidents, which are inevitable and they do occur in other countries including my own… the important thing is how political leaders, religious leaders, civic society leaders react so we count on these leaders to do what is responsible, and that is to find ways to mend wounds, to heal divides. And we think that there are responsible leaders that know what they need to do.
Question: At your meeting with the authorities, did you discuss the possibility of delaying the June 5 elections in terms of benchmarks and unimplemented reforms?
DAS Yee: There’s no purpose, we believe, in dealing with hypothetical questions. Our goal is to work with the authorities, to do everything possible to ensure that the conditions are free and fair on June 5. We believe there is adequate time. If all party leaders, if the media, if government leaders do their jobs and work towards this goal, we believe there is enough time to establish these conditions. And it is much more important, I think, to think about what needs to be done in the areas of the voters’ lists, the media reforms, creating the right environment… It’s much more important that we do that rather than speculating about alternatives. Thank you very much for your time!