Greece and Macedonia underline will to solve name row

The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers underlined their commitment on Friday to resolve a dispute over Macedonia's name that has threatened to hold up the latter's entry into NATO and the European Union.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki and Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni said they would study new ideas to resolve the row put forward at talks in Brussels hosted by U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Dan Fried. ( Reuters )

Greece has threatened to veto Macedonia's NATO entry unless it changes its name, which is the same as Greece's northernmost province.

"The two ministers underlined the commitment of the two governments to reach a solution," a statement from the Greek Foreign Ministry said. It said the two sides looked forward to meeting U.N. envoy Matthew Nimetz in New York on Tuesday.

Milososki said Macedonia would remain "constructively involved". "Our aim is, because we have fulfilled all relevant criteria, that Macedonia should be part of NATO," he told reporters.

Macedonia hopes for a resolution to the row in time for an April 2-4 NATO summit in Bucharest to invite it to join the 26-member military alliance alongside Croatia and Albania, whose invitations were agreed in principle in March.

NATO and the European Union are eager to see a solution to the row for the sake of stability in the Balkans.

Milososki said the new ideas had been put forward by Fried but neither side gave details.

Bakoyanni told a briefing she did not know if it would be possible to reach an agreement in New York, but Greece "has the will to be constructive and to work towards a solution".

"We are looking for a mutually acceptable solution. We believe that we can find it if the goodwill is there," she said.

"We want a name that will make the difference between the whole geographical Macedonia and what the former republic of Macedonia today covers. I think this is fair and clear and it is important for regional stability."

Skopje uses the name Macedonia in bilateral ties with the United States, Russia, China and Canada but at the United Nations it is called "The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia." NATO and the EU also use the acronym FYROM.

Bakoyanni said she was "neither optimistic nor pessimistic" about an agreement by the summit. Asked if there was increased will, she said: "I think it is an important issue for both our people and I think that the will is there."

NATO diplomats say they expect the issue to go down to the wire in Bucharest, and possibly be resolved only after the opening dinner on April 2.

The Macedonians have said they would be willing to use a hybrid name with Greece but not internationally, internally or in bilateral dealings with other states, a NATO diplomat said.

The Greeks have said they do not mind if Macedonia uses the name of its choice internally but it must use a hybrid name internationally, the source said.

One NATO diplomat said a fall-back option being considered was to give Macedonia a conditional NATO invitation, making clear that ratification of its accession would be subject to prior resolution of the name issue.

Macedonia has been hoping for a green light later this year to open EU membership negotiations.

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