Thursday, January 18, 2007

Athens to put foot down on Skopje tactics

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis is today due to urge visiting United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz to resurrect stalled talks aimed at resolving a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) regarding the latter’s official name.

Bakoyannis is expected to impress upon Nimetz Athens’s “deep displeasure” with Skopje’s decision last month to name its airport after the ancient Greek warrior Alexander the Great.

Greek diplomats have condemned the move for violating the spirit of an interim agreement and discrediting UN-backed efforts to resolve the dispute.

Bakoyannis intends to send a clear message to Skopje that Athens’s established stances on this issue “are not just formalities” but a true expression of Greece’s position, a diplomatic source told Kathimerini yesterday.

However the foreign minister will also reiterate Athens’s support of FYROM’s accession to the European Union and NATO, as long as a mutually acceptable agreement on the name dispute is reached, ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said.

“We have already taken the necessary constructive steps,” he added, in reference to Athens’s acceptance in 2005 of Nimetz’s proposal of “Republika Makedonija-Skopje” as an official name. (The proposal was rejected by FYROM.) Koumoutsakos stressed that the ball is now in FYROM’s court, and that Skopje “should follow the example of Bulgaria and Romania, which are looking toward a common European future instead of taking backward steps and insisting on distorting the past.”

The ministry spokesman also commented on Greek-Turkish ties yesterday. Responding to a reporter’s question, he said that Greek and Turkish diplomats were in contact to set a date for a visit to Athens by Turkey’s FM Abdullah Gul.

Asked to comment on Gul’s criticism of Greece’s treatment of the Muslim minority of Thrace, Koumoutsakos stressed that Athens has channeled a significant proportion of EU funding into the region.

He dismissed Wednesday’s reports of gunshots on the Aegean islet of Imia as “inaccurate.”

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