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21 May 12

Turkish Support for Macedonia's NATO Bid Riles Greece

As Turkey contemplates raising Macedonia’s NATO accession bid at the alliance's Chicago summit, Greek remains adamant that it will block any attempt to force its hand.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic BIRN Skopje

Photo by: nato.int

As a two-day NATO summit starts in Chicago on Sunday, top NATO officials have already said that enlargement to include would-be member Macedonia will not be on the agenda.

But while Greece remains adamant that Macedonia cannot be allowed in until they have solved the dispute over the country's name, Ankara is also contemplating flexing its muscles.

Turkish parliamentary Speaker Cemil Cicek who this week visited Macedonia said that his country might exert pressure on the Macedonian issue at the summit.

Asked in Skopje whether Turkey would raise the issue in Chicago, Cicek said that the presidents of both Macedonia and Turkey were expected to attend the event and meet.
 "They are going to do what they need to do," Cicek answered cautiously.

Turkey is seen as an important supporter of Macedonia in the region. "We give you our support and will keep on doing so," Cicek said.

"We believe that Macedonia's membership bid is just and at the same time contributes to peace and stability in the Balkan region," he added.

Media in both Greece and Macedonia are mulling a possible move on the issue by Turkey at the summit, suggesting it might be supported by several other NATO countries, including Slovenia, Croatia, Norway and the United Kingdom who are also seen as sympathetic to Macedonia.

The Greek newspaper To Vima cites anonymous diplomatic sources as saying that Athens does not expect any surprises at the summit. But the Greek leadership is not leaving things to chance.

According to the Greek media, this issue was discussed at a cabinet meeting of President Karolos Papoulias on Thursday, attended by top politicians including Evangelos Venizelos from the main left-wing PASOK party and Antonis Samaras from the New Democracy party.

They agreed that if Turkey or another Macedonian supporter raises the issue of the country’s accession, Greece will not hesitate to veto it again.

“We are here to prevent it [Macedonian accession] if someone wants to include that in the schedule,” Fotis Kouvelis, head of the Democratic Left Party, was cited as saying after the meeting.

In 2008 Greece blocked Macedonia’s accession at the Bucharest NATO Summit, saying that its neighbour’s use of the name “Macedonia” implies a territorial claim to its northern province of the same name. Since then, NATO has demanded a solution to the dispute before Macedonia can be invited to join.

Last December, the International Court of Justice, ICJ, ruled that Greece had breached an interim deal brokered by the UN in 1995 when it blocked Macedonia’s attempt to join NATO.

However, the court did not directly order Greece to stop the blockade, as Macedonia had requested.

Both countries are engaged in long standing UN-led name talks but they have not moved forward for over a year. There have been only few meetings between the two parties but they have been viewed as nothing more than exchanges of pleasantries.

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As Turkey contemplates raising Macedonia’s NATO accession bid at the alliance's Chicago summit, Greek remains adamant that it will block any attempt to force its hand.