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News 23 May 14

NATO Chief Urges Macedonia to End Name Dispute

It is time to end the long-standing 'name' dispute and unlock Macedonia's stalled Euro-Atlantic integration process, the head of NATO told Macedonian leaders on Thursday.

Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Rasmussen [left] and Gruevski [right] | Photo by: NATO

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told Macedonian leaders in Skopje that the key condition for joining the alliance was solving the long-standing dispute with Greece over its name.

He was meeting Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and other leaders in Skopje on a regional tour aimed at underlining support for Balkan countries.

“NATO’s door is open. As we agreed at the Bucharest NATO Summit in 2008, you will receive an invitation to NATO once a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue is found,” the Secretary General said. “So I urge you to continue your efforts to strive for a solution. The time is now.”

At the joint press with Gruevski, Rasmussen said NATO appreciated Macedonia's participation in peacekeeping missions, but that the country now needed to take “tough decisions" and show "bravery” if it wished to join NATO.

Prime Minister Gruevski told his guest that he wished to see his country as a full NATO member.

“Macedonia has the same main interest [in joining NATO] and the name dispute is the only obstacle to the Euro-Atlantic integration of Macedonia,” Gruevski said.

Greece, a NATO member country with a right of veto, blocked Macedonia's NATO accession in 2008.  

Greece insists that Macedonia’s name implies territorial claims to its own northern province, also called Macedonia.

Macedonia's progress in the EU is also blocked for the same reasons, although it obtained EU candidate status back in December 2005 and although European Commission reports have recommended a start to membership talks each year since 2009.

The NATO chief's visit comes ahead of the NATO summit in September in Cardiff where it is unclear whether there will be much progress on enlargement with any of the four current aspirant countries: Macedonia, Montenegro, Bosnia and Georgia.

Rasmussen [left] and Gruevski [right] | Photo by: NATO

The last round of UN-sponsored name talks took place in April in New York.

However, the UN mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, conceded that no significant progress was made.

Although the talks were deemed a mere formality, their unusual timing amid Macedonian general and presidential elections and ahead of the Greek local elections was linked to NATO's concerns about the region in the light of the recent crisis in Ukraine.

Nimetz then said it was time for both sides to “seriously” reconsider ways to resolve the bilateral dispute, having in mind “the situation in the world and safety concerns”.

Nimetz has said that he plans to visit Macedonia and Greece at the end of July for another round of talks.

One matter that could additionally complicate Macedonia's NATO accession bid is the ongoing political crisis at home.

The opposition Social Democrats have declined to recognize the results of the April general and presidential elections and have refused to take up seats in parliament.

The former Macedonian ambassador to NATO, Nano Ruzin, meanwhile told Radio Free Europe that the visit was intended mainly to “remind or inspire the Government of mister Gruevski to make efforts for finding a solution with the southern neighbour about the name” as well as exchange a few words about political events and democracy.

The visit to Macedonia forms part of Rasmussen's wider tour of the region. In Bosnia, he urged leaders to work together towards their common goal and in Montenegro he praised the country's achievements regarding NATO membership.

While in Bosnia, Rasmussen also said that NATO remained committed to the future of the Western Balkans. “Your security, your stability and your future matter to us,” Rasmussen said.

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