Fyrom Still a Diplomatic Thorn

By George Gilson

The US urges direct talks on the name dispute, as most Greeks reject Skopje's admission to Nato until a compromise can be reached

IF THE world was focused on US President George Bush's resounding call for Kosovo independence during his June 9 visit to Albania, Greece was equally focused on its dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) on that country's name.

The two issues are linked by the intention of the US to shepherd Fyrom, Albania and Croatia into Nato early next year. Bush held a joint meeting with the leaders of all three countries during his brief stay in Tirana.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, a former ambassador to Athens, addressed Greek concerns about the name dispute when he arrived in Athens one day after Bush's visit to Albania.

Workers put up a sign displaying the new name of the Former
Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia's main airport, Aleksandar
Veliki (Alexander the Great), near the capital Skopje, on
January 16. Fyrom's decision to rename its main airport after the
ancient Greek conqueror Alexander the Great, added fuel to a
15-year-old dispute with neighbouring Greece over the former's name
He was welcomed by a fresh poll indicating that an overwhelming 83.3 percent of Greeks want the government to veto Fyrom's Nato entry under its constitutional name: Republic of Macedonia. But nearly two-thirds (61 percent) object to the country's membership, even with the name Fyrom. Nato is expected to review Fyrom's application early next year, and Greece has recently appeared eager to resolve the name dispute beforehand.

Fyrom not ready for Nato

Burns urged calm on the name dispute during a briefing for journalists, where he noted that no decision will be taken on Fyrom until early 2008. Indeed, Fyrom has yet to institute many of the reforms required for Nato membership (which also applies to Albania, as Bush noted while in Tirana).

Greece is eager for each Nato candidate to be judged on its merits, rather than be shepherded in as a group. Croatia is the only candidate that has now met the criteria, and the period needed for Fyrom to institute reforms could also buy time to reach a settlement on the name dispute.

But Burns expressed support for the bilateral talks at the UN to resolve the name issue, and he urged the two sides to step up direct contacts to that end (see Undersecretary Burns' interview on p7). He also underlined the need for more reforms before Skopje is ready for Nato membership.

Burns said that Washington has made clear to Fyrom that it understands the "sensitivities" of Nato ally Greece, and that it wants a mutually acceptable solution to be reached. The US recognised Fyrom as Republic of Macedonia in 2004.

Athens' eagerness to resolve the dispute is, in part, explained by US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice's expression of Washington's support - in a letter to Fyrom Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki a few months ago - for Fyrom's entry even if the name dispute with Greece cannot be resolved by the time it is ready for membership. That would deprive Greece, a member of Nato and the EU, of one of its two pillars of leverage to push a mutually acceptable compromise.

Compromise before admission

Greece recently rejected Fyrom President Branko Crvenkovski's suggestion, in an interview with the daily Kathimerini, that his country could live with entering Nato under the name Fyrom, at least as an interim measure.

Foreign ministry spokesman George Koumoutsakos described that stance as a "useless tactical move". Koumoutsakos said that Fyrom's Euro-Atlantic path (Nato and EU membership) depends on its "conciliatory and moderate" stance in bilateral talks under UN auspices (led by mediator Matthew Nimetz) to reach a mutually acceptable solution. He also called on Skopje to abandon irredentist policies and acts (such as the recent move to name the Skopje airport after Alexander the Great). The spokesman also accused Skopje of violating the 1995 interim agreement under which the name Fyrom is to be used in all international organisations.

Fyrom is also the name with which Skopje was admitted to the United Nations and under it has applied for Nato membership. Though most countries have already recognised Fyrom under its constitutional name, Greece objects to Skopje's use of the name Macedonia on the grounds that it constitutes an expropriation of the name of the Greek province, which was the centre of the ancient Macedonian dynasty.

(Posting Date 24 June)

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