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article imageGreece, Macedonia in new UN bid to solve name dispute

By Carole LANDRY (AFP)     Jan 17, 2018 in World

Greece and Macedonia returned to the United Nations on Wednesday hoping to reach a compromise that could end a 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name.

Greece's objections to the use of the name Macedonia since the Balkan country's independence in 1991 has hampered the tiny nation's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz sat down with diplomats from the two countries at UN headquarters after their governments showed a new willingness to end the row.

"I think the people in both countries are maybe ready to hear some solutions that are consistent with national interests but also have some element of compromise that would resolve the problem," the UN envoy said in an interview to Greek state broadcaster ERT on Monday.

Greece maintains that the use of Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to its own Macedonia -- a northern region that boasts the port cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala, as well as the core of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.

In a separate interview late Tuesday, Nimetz noted that all sides had to be "realistic."

"The name 'Macedonia' is in the name now, in the United Nations, and recognized by Greece with that name," he told Antenna TV.

"Over 100 countries recognize the state with 'Republika Makedonija', so it has 'Macedonia' in the name for most countries... so the name 'Macedonia' is connected with this country, and I think that we can find a solution that will meet Greek requirements and also satisfy the people in the northern neighbor."

A former US administration official who has been trying to broker a deal since 1994, Nimetz told ERT he saw some "positive momentum" while UN sources did not rule out a breakthrough at the meeting.

- 'Delicate discussions' -

Macedonia is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations, but the Security Council acknowledged when it agreed to UN membership that this was a provisional name.

It has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under that name.

Some of the solutions floated include using the name New Macedonia or Northern Macedonia, but Greek nationalists argue that there should be no reference to Macedonia at all.

Asked about prospects for the talks, UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric sounded a cautious note earlier this week.

"These are discussions that have been going on for quite a long time. They're very delicate discussions," he said. "Let's wait to see what happens."

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said this month that he believed a solution could be found by July, while his Greek counterpart Alexis Tsipras has said the issue should be settled this year.

Tsipras this week pushed back against the influential Greek Orthodox Church after it said any compromise with Skopje should not include the use of "Macedonia".

A compromise on the name is expected to be put to a referendum in Skopje and presented to the Greek parliament for endorsement, which could stoke nationalist fervor.

Church groups in Greece are already planning protests over the weekend.

Attending the UN talks was Macedonia's ambassador to the United States, Vasko Naumovski and Greece's representative Adamantios Vassilakis.

Nimetz is scheduled to speak to the press at 12:15 (1715 GMT) on the results of the talks.

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