THESSALONIKI – It is vitally important to take the Prespes Agreement signed by Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to its full conclusion “so that you can move on”, US Senator for Wisconsin Ron Johnson said in exclusive statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on Sunday, the day before his visit to Skopje.
The Senator was in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki over the weekend to attend the 83rd Thessaloniki International Fair (TIF).
The head of a U.S Senate sub-committee on regional security in Europe, Senator Johnson was in Skopje on Monday for talks with FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and again urged voters to support the deal to change the country’s name in the upcoming referendum on September 30, noting that this would allow the country to join NATO.
As he said to the ANA at TIF, encouraging voters to participate in the referendum was the purpose of his visit to Skopje.
“I think [the Agreement] will absolutely help in the stability [of the region]. I realise it is a sensitive issue. People are proud of their heritage, of that name, on both sides. I think it’s a very reasonable agreement. I think it has taken real political courage of the leaders on both sides,” he said.
In comments about Turkey, the senator noted that all sides “need to find a better relationship with Turkey” and noted that, while there were “real issues” on this score, building a relationship meant finding those areas where there was agreement and where cooperation was possible.
“Turkey is a valued NATO partner, also crucial just in terms of its position in a very troubled area of the world. So we just keep working hard, to redouble or triple our efforts and try and improve relations between our countries,” Johnson said.
Referring to his meetings at the 83rd TIF, the senator said the atmosphere had been very encouraging and the conditions “ripe” for investments.
“We sat down with the prime minister and business people at the business round table and the conditions were just ripe for investments. The prime minister understands that the number one component of a solution is economic growth, that is going to require investment in business and he realises that he as to make Greece an attractive place for that kind of business investment,” Johnson told ANA.
He underlined the importance of Greek-U.S. relations: “In a very unsettled world, in a region that is becoming more and more troubled, we surely recognise how crucial Greece is from the standpoint of a strong ally, a long-time friend, the birthplace of democracy; we learn from Greece.”
“Our military relationship is strengthening, which will also have spillover effects on the economy as well… I really encourage people to look toward Greece. There are so many investment dollars around the world looking for a good ‘home’ – Greece would be a good ‘home’ for investment dollars,” he added.
According to Johnson, Greece must now focus on and invest in achieving economic growth. “As the prime minister said, you must make Greece an attractive place for business investments. Look around you, Greece is a very attractive place, it’s a beautiful place. Tourism is certainly improving here but you need something more to your economy than just tourism. Again, that is where I think our military cooperation will help, that will help inject dollars into the economy as well,” he said.
Asked whether he shared the view of U.S. Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt that Greece is a pillar of stability, Johnson agreed and said that it could become an even more stable pillar now that a tough period in the economy that required real belt-tightening was over and the country was starting to return to good economic growth.