Thursday, January 03, 2008

Greece/Macedonia issue cries for a solution

Following a Greek threat to veto the admission of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (Fyrom) into Nato, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz announced new, intensified negotiations between the two sides to settle the nearly 20-year-old Fyrom name dispute. The talks will be based on a set of ideas Nimetz presented to the two sides on November 1, which apparently include that Fyrom use another name internationally other than its constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia.

Nimetz mentioned Kosovo in enumerating the benefits of resolving the name dispute, many of which are routinely cited by Greek diplomacy in calling on Skopje to compromise.

"There are some international issues that cannot be solved, but this is one that cries out for a solution because the positives of solving it are so great. Excellent relations between the two neighbours can be achieved, a much better economic relationship and much more economic development. The Nato and EU process [Fyrom's membership applications] would be enhanced. Stability in light of what's happening in Kosovo and other areas of the region would be enhanced," the American diplomat said after talks with Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis in Athens on December 5.

"If it's not resolved, [there is] constant irritation, constant bickering and all sorts of disputes are created," Nimetz said.

While the envoy said he is not working on a timetable, he stressed the benefits of moving quickly. "The reality of the situation, the statements made, and the processes of Nato, the Kosovo situation and the EU process all in my mind lead to the conclusion that dealing with this in the shorter term rather than the longer term is very advantageous to everyone," Nimetz said.

Fyrom Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki is to host talks between Greek negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis and Fyrom counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in Skopje in January. If that goes well, Bakoyannis will host a second round in Athens soon thereafter.

Nimetz confirmed that ideas about a possible name were floated during his talks in Skopje and Athens, but no details were made public. "If the dispute is about the name, you've got to talk about the name," he said.

Fyrom Premier Nikola Gruevski began the process with a hard line, rejecting any possibility of changing his country's name internationally one day after Nimetz presented his initial suggestions to the parties on November 1 in New York. Skopje has so far insisted it is prepared to allow only Greece to call it something different.

Greece insists that a solution must rest on a composite name, possibly including a geographic marker. Nimetz's last specific proposal in 2005 was Republika Makedonije-Skopje, which was rejected by Fyrom.

At the same time, Greek diplomacy appears to be making its first, bold moves to sway public opinion in Fyrom, which is largely against changing the country's constitutional name, especially since over 100 countries have recognised it as "Republic of Macedonia".

In a December 2 interview with the Skopje newspaper Utrinski Vesnik, Bakoyannis said that Greece approaches negotiations in a spirit of good faith and underlined the economic and political advantages of a settlement. She also stressed that Skopje, under a 1995 interim agreement that gave the country the awkward name of Fyrom internationally, has undertaken to work toward a name settlement.

Asked by the Athens News if the two sides still stand by the interim agreement, Nimetz, who helped draft the accord, was emphatic.

"I haven't heard anyone on either side say they don't respect the interim agreement. The agreement has a lot of provisions in it, and whether people observe it or not is a matter of interpretation," he said.

Greece has threatened to veto Fyrom's Nato entry, despite the fact that the accord allows Skopje to enter international organisations as Fyrom, saying that Skopje has breached key parts of the accord, including the requirement to work toward a name settlement and refrain from propaganda at the other party's expense.

"I think there is a great interest internationally in getting the issue solved. I have spoken to other governments - the US and different countries - and there is a heightened desire by everyone to get a solution," Nimetz said.

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