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SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Well, good afternoon, everyone.  It’s a real pleasure to have Foreign Minister Osmani here.  We are welcome – welcome to the State Department, welcome to Washington – our newest NATO Ally, but also I am very pleased that we’ve initiated the Strategic Dialogue, which I think will only serve to deepen cooperation, coordination, collaboration between North Macedonia and the United States.  We’re very, very pleased to do that.

And I also want to say how much we appreciate the very significant reform agenda that North Macedonia has been engaged on, on democracy, on energy, on regional economic initiatives.  All of these are significant, they’re important, and we support them very much.

Equally, we strongly support North Macedonia’s EU accession process ambitions.  We very much want to see that move forward, and we’ll continue to help support that in any way that we can.

And of course, we have a lot to talk about when it comes to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.  As it happens, I think you were just in Kyiv on one of the days when I was speaking to our friend Dmytro Kuleba, the foreign minister there, so I’m anxious to exchange views with you on that.

But for now, welcome.  Very good to have you here.

FOREIGN MINISTER OSMANI:  Thank you so much.  State Secretary Blinken, dear Antony, thank you so much for the warm welcome and the hospitality, and also thanks to your team for the exceptional organization.  This is such an important day to us.  Launching of the Strategic Dialogue between the United States and the Republic of Macedonia represents a significant milestone in our overall bilateral relations, and I think it’s a logical step forward since 30 years of established diplomatic relations and 15 years of strategic partnership, and particularly two years Allies in NATO.

I think that this will open a new chapter of cooperation, will frame our overall cooperation, put some dynamism and predictability.  And this is particularly important now when our values have been challenged; and us likeminded countries that we share same values, we need to be closely coordinated to address those challenges.

We are grateful for the support that the United States has been providing to North Macedonia throughout the years – the political support that has brought us to this day to have a functional multiethnic democracy, a unique kind that serves as a reference, I would say, as a model, to the region, but also as a democratic governance and democratic institutions.  I think the highlight of our cooperation has been our membership to NATO, and we are grateful for the support you have been providing to us.  It was our first and most important strategic goal to North Macedonia.  We are trying these two years to be of added value not only to the Alliance but in our region as a constructive NATO partner.

And we are also grateful for supporting us in our EU membership aspiration.  It was crucial to us that you see it as a strategic goal, but also for supporting our society to meet the criterias.  And we will continue to work together in overcoming the (inaudible) disputes we have in order to become member of EU and to push forward the entire region into Euro-Atlantic anchoring.

Thank you so much for having me today.

SECRETARY BLINKEN:  Thank you.  Thanks, everyone.

U.S. Department of State

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