The United States is taking up a direct role in mediating the "name" dispute in which Greece is threatening to block Macedonia's entry into NATO, local media claimed Saturday citing unnamed diplomatic sources.
Daniel Fried, the U.S. Under-Secretary for Europe, reportedly told Macedonia’s leaders of Washington's more pro-active strategy during a surprise visit to Skopje on late Friday, local A1 TV reported.
He held meetings with Macedonia’s President Branko Crvenkovski and with Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski, although no details of the talks were made public.
In an interview for A1 on Saturday, Fried called on Macedonian leaders to seriously consider a quick compromise with Greece.
“There is a lot of openness in NATO towards Macedonia but we really need a solution to the name issue. And my message is: well, let’s try to find it,” Fried said.
During his trip, Fried reportedly told politicians that the U.S. is “strongly determined” in trying to resolve the issue ahead of NATO's Bucharest Summit in April, where Macedonia is hoping to get the green light to join the military alliance.
Athens has threatened to veto Skopje’s accession if a solution is not found by then.
Greece opposes Skopje’s use of the name “Republic of Macedonia” even though it has been recognised by over 120 countries. Athens argues the name suggests Skopje could make territorial claims over Greece's own northern province of Macedonia.
On Wednesday, the United Nations special mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, told media in Skopje of “a deep gap" in the Greek and Macedonian positions.
He had been meet leaders from both countries in a last ditch attempt to reconcile their differences.
Skopje defended its demands for a so-called 'double formula' that envisages one mutually acceptable name for bilateral relations with Greece and using its constitutional name for dealings with the rest of the world.
Athens on the other hand argues that Skopje should accept a single name for international correspondence as well as for home use.
In 1995 both sides signed a UN-sponsored agreement which included a clause restraining Athens from blocking Skopje’s attempts to join international organisations as long as it uses the provisional name “Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or FYROM.