Fyrom Name Talks Continue

Nimetz hopes to intensify talks before the Nato summit, after PM NikolaGruevski and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis meet at the EU summit


GREECE and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) plan to intensify UN-sponsored talks over the next two weeks in the hopes of settling on a name for Fyrom before Nato's April 2-4 summit in Bucharest. However, a March 17 meeting between the two sides in Vienna produced few signs of convergence.

While UN mediator Matthew Nimetz said he was "more optimistic" than in the last round of talks, when he spoke of a serious "gap" between the parties, it was unclear how this was justified. What did become known is that the UN mediator tried to narrow down the list of possible compromise names.

Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis (L) and her Albanian counterpart Lulzim Basha answer reporters' questions during a news conference in Tirana on March 20. Bakoyannis said Athens will not allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join Nato unless a dispute over the 'Macedonia' name is resolved. She said Greece would support Nato membership bids by Croatia and Albania at an alliance summit next month in Bucharest

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, after a March 18 meeting of the inner cabinet, refused to comment on reports that the name "Republic of New Macedonia" was on the table.

"Greece's positions are well known in this country, but mainly they are well known abroad," she said.

The Greek government has repeatedly said it insists on a geographical marker qualifying the word Macedonia (eg Upper or Northern Macedonia). While Athens flatly rejected a UN proposal of "New Republic of Macedonia", press reports in the past have suggested that the Greek government might accept the adjective "new" as a qualifier for the place name.

Equally importantly, rejecting Nimetz's proposal that the agreed-upon name only be used in international organisations, Athens is insisting that the name be the only one used to describe Fyrom both domestically and in bilateral relations.

Bakoyannis predicted intense talks over the next two weeks, and the Greek and Fyrom envoys, Adamantios Vassilakis and Nikola Dimitrov, are expected to meet again in New York the week of March 24.

In elliptical comments after the talks, Nimetz admitted that neither Athens nor Skopje had accepted his main proposals, tabled on February 17, which included five names for Fyrom. Of these, Greece accepted only "Republic of Upper Macedonia" and Fyrom rejected them all.

Another name floated by Nimetz in the past (2005) was "Republika Makedonija-Skopje" (a Slavic rendition of the country's constitutional name, with the name of the capital as a suffix), and some reports suggested it was placed on the table in Vienna.

Nimetz underlined the importance of resolving the 17-year-old dispute and expressed guarded optimism that political leaders in Skopje and Athens will realise the benefits of settling and the perils of leaving the matter unresolved.

Greece has informed its Nato allies that it will block an invitation for Fyrom to join the Atlantic Alliance if a solution is not found before the Bucharest summit.

Strong pressure from both the US and the EU to settle the lingering name dispute has been apparent in the last few weeks.

US' 'gentle persuasion'

The US ambassador to Nato, Victoria Nuland, arranged and was present at a meeting between Bakoyannis and Fyrom Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on the sidelines of a Brussels EU summit on March 13.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis defended the Bakoyannis-Gruevski talks at a March 14 news conference after the EU summit.

"Let me make one thing clear. There are no pressures, nor will we accept any pressures," he said. "We want to find a solution and whoever wants to help is welcome - partner, ally or third party... We have no reason to fear expounding on our views on any level."

The meeting was criticised by many as changing the established framework for talks, which have been strictly under UN auspices, and it confirmed earlier reports (until then denied by both the Greek government and the US embassy in Athens) that Washington was pushing to elevate the negotiations to a high political level. But the UN-sponsored talks under Nimetz are also continuing, with the keen interest of Washington apparent.

Bakoyannis was to hold talks with Fyrom counterpart Antonio Milososki in Brussels on March 21.

(Posting Date 1 April 2008)

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