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News 14 Jun 17

Macedonia FM Receives Warm Welcome in Athens

Settlement of the bilateral 'name' dispute is crucial if Greece is to support Macedonia's Euro-Atlantic aspirations, Athens said on Wednesday, at an introductory meeting between the two Foreign Ministers.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias [left] and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov [right]. Photo: BETA

Macedonia's new Foreign Minister, Nikola Dimitrov, has paid a first to Athens, where he met his counterpart, Nikos Kotzias, in a warm atmosphere that some hope may pave the way to a solution of the long-standing dispute over Macedonia's name.

Greece objects to the name "Macedonia", claiming it implies a territorial aspiration to the Greek province of the same name.

"I am seeking support from the Greek government and the people of Greece," Dimitrov told a joint press conference  in Athens, saying that his country would do its utmost to strengthen trust and cooperation with neighbouring Greece.

Thanking his host, Kotzias, for the "warm welcome", Dimitrov said the priorities of the new Macedonian government led by Zoran Zaev were strengthening institutions and the rule of law and reviving the stalled Euro-Atlantic integration process.

Macedonia obtained a recommendation to start EU accession talks back in 2005 and was almost invited to join NATO back in 2008. However, the unresolved name dispute with Greece has stalled progress since then.

Over the past two years, since Macedonia became mired in political crisis, the EU additionally conditioned the accession recommendation with demands for fresh democratic elections and the fulfillment of urgent reform priorities.

The trip to Athens was Dimitrov's first bilateral visit since he came to office two weeks ago.

Thanking Dimitrov for choosing Athens for his first official diplomatic stop-over, Kotzias said Athens was pleased its neighbour had finally ended its political crisis with the formation of a new Social Democrat-led government.

"Greece supports FYROM's sovereignty and territorial integrity and stands against third party intervention in domestic affairs," Kotzias said, using the acronym by which Macedonia joined the UN. [It stands for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.]

He added that Greece was prepared to assist the country's EU and NATO aspirations once the name dispute was settled.

"I shall spare no effort for a just compromise on the name issue ... and to further develop our relations," the Greek minister said.

Dimitrov is also meeting Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos, as well as a representative of the main Greek opposition New Democracy party, Giorgos Koumoutsakos, who heads that party's foreign policy department.

It is hoped that the change in power in Macedonia will open the way for better communications between the two countries after years of sour diplomatic notes coming from both sides.

During Monday's visit to Brussels, Macedonia's new Prime Minister Zaev promised to revitalise his country’s stalled Euro-Atlantic integration process and expressed hope of a rapid invitation to join NATO.

Some observers believe Macedonia's new government could make use of the increased US and EU interest in the Western Balkans, due to Russia's growing impact in the region, to get an invitation to join NATO sooner rather than later.

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