Thursday, April 03, 2008

Macedonia's NATO bid on ice as Croatia, Albania get nod

Bucharest - NATO leaders are set to invite Albania and Croatia into the alliance on Thursday, but they placed the aspirations of Macedonia on ice owing to its unresolved name dispute with Greece, NATO officials said Wednesday. "There is consensus for two of the three countries to be offered invitations to begin accession talks starting tomorrow," NATO spokesman James Appathurai said.

For Macedonia, Appathurai said that the Greek delegation had "made it very clear that until the name issue is resolved," offering NATO membership would "not be possible."

NATO has made expansion into the Western Balkans one of its top priorities. The alliance conducted its first major military campaign in the region nearly 10 years ago, still has a sizeable peacekeeping operation in Kosovo and consequently views NATO membership as a means of stabilizing that part of South-East Europe.

Albania, Croatia and Macedonia have all been offered NATO membership action plans (MAP), and at their last summit in Riga in 2006, the alliance's leaders told the trio that they were all likely to be invited into the organization at Bucharest, so long as they met NATO standards.

While Croatia and Albania were given the thumbs up by NATO leaders, Macedonia saw its chances effectively vetoed by Greece.

"No solution (of the Macedonia name issue) means no invitation," Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyianni told reporters as she set off for Bucharest.

Greece argues that Skopje's use of the name Macedonia could pose an inherent claim on the northern Greek province, where Alexander the Great was born.

The country, independent since 1991, was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

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