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News 05 Jun 17

New Macedonia FM to Visit Greece

New Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov will soon travel to Greece, to develop bilateral relations with its southern neighbor, and in hopes of opening the country's currently blocked Euro-Atlantic path.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
BIRN
Skopje
 
 Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. Photo: MIA

Dimitrov, who is part of the new Macedonian government elected last Wednesday, will travel to Greece by invitation of his Greek counterpart, Nikos Kotzias. The exact time of the visit has not yet been revealed.

“Diplomacy's work is to build bridges, create friendships and opens doors and perspectives” Dimitrov told local media, revealing his intention to accept Greece’s recent invitation to visit.

“Bearing in mind that the biggest challenge for our Euro-Atlantic integration is relations with Greece, I would like to reveal the new face of the Republic of Macedonia primrily in Greece.  I am convinced that Greece also has interests in the European Republic of Macedonia,” Dimitrov said.

Kotzias has said on several occasions that he would seek to intensify cooperation with Macedonia after it put an end to its prolonged internal political crisis which has been ongoing for several years. Former opposition leader Zoran Zaev has finally been given the mandate fo form a government after months of political uncertainty since a subsequent election last December.

“I have had several conversations with Mr. Zaev and I will invite my counterpart Dimitrov to Athens so that we can find ways for intensifying of cooperation and solving of all long-standing problems ... in the spirit of democratic consensus” Kotzias said immediately after the election of the new Macedonian government.

Greece claims that use of the word Macedonia implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name. Athens has blocked Skopje's attempts to join NATO and the EU over the unresolved issue.

In 2008, Macedonia narrowly missed the chance to enter NATO solely due to the long-standing dispute with Greece.

As a result, Macedonia received a conditional invitation under which NATO was obliged to invite the country to join after it solved the dispute with its neighbour. However, no further progress has since been made and bilateral relations only soured further as Athens kept accusing the former Macedonian government led by Nikola Gruevski of provocations.

Deputy Assistant Secretary for European and Eurasian Affairs at the US State Department, Hoyt Brian Yee, welcomed the fresh positive signals coming from both sides.

He said that he hopes the new Macedonian government would work "to resolve issues with neighbors, including Greece."

“I was very glad to see Foreign Minister Kotziasis from Greece extend a hand of friendship to his counterparts in Macedonia, expressing his willingness to talk, to meet his counterparts in Macedonia in order to move forward in the relationships between those two countries, which eventually, we hope, will lead to agreements that would unblock the path of Macedonia to Euro-Atlantic integration."

The announced visit comes at a time when some Macedonian political observers believe that the new government could use increased US and EU interest in the Western Balkans to get an invitation to join NATO sooner rather than later – a path that would invariably lead to improving relations with Greece.

The reason for the increased Western interest in the region, observers said, is Russia's growing clout in the Western Balkans.

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