Thursday, December 27, 2007

Macedonia urges Greece not to block its NATO bid over name dispute, wants high-level talks

Macedonia urged Greece Tuesday not to block its NATO accession bid over a long-running dispute over its name, and called for high-level talks to resolve the problem.

Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said NATO-member Greece's right to use its veto if there is no agreement on the name issue "is the same as having the right to a nuclear weapon."

"I believe Greece is a serious state, which will think twice before deciding to use such an option," Milososki said.

It was the strongest statement so far from Macedonia, which has staked much on its bid to join NATO, accelerating anti-corruption and human rights reforms requested by the alliance.

The name dispute has soured relations between the two Balkan neighbors — and strong trading partners — since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991. Greece says Macedonia's name could imply territorial claims on its own northern region of Macedonia, and insists on calling the country the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

A senior foreign ministry official said Tuesday that Milososki had written to his Greek counterpart, Dora Bakoyannis, proposing to meet for direct negotiations.

Greek and Macedonian diplomats will hold United Nations-supervised talks next month in Skopje, with a second round of talks scheduled shortly afterward in Athens. But the new proposal would seek to fast-track the process.

"The idea is for the foreign ministers of both countries to meet twice a year," the Macedonian official told the Associated Press on condition of anonymity, due to the sensitivity of the issue. "It is unnatural for neighboring countries to have contacts on all matters except for political issues."

The official said there has been no response so far from Greece.

Croatia, Albania and Macedonia are all hoping to receive invitations to join the alliance at a NATO summit in April in the Romanian capital, Bucharest.

Macedonia is officially referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the U.N. and other international bodies. But more than 100 countries — including the U.S. Russia and Canada — have recognized it as Macedonia.

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