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Greece, Macedonia return to UN over name dispute

Macedonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Nikola Dimitrov (R) shakes hands with his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias during a welcoming ceremony at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Skopje, Macedonia, August 31, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

Greece and Macedonia return to the United Nations on Wednesday seeking to end a 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic's name, with hopes of a compromise after a change of government in Skopje.

Greece's objections to the use of the name Macedonia since the Balkan country's independence in 1991 has hampered the tiny nation's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

UN envoy Matthew Nimetz decided to sit down with diplomats from the two countries at UN headquarters after their governments showed a new willingness to end the row.

"I think the people in both countries are maybe ready to hear some solutions that are consistent with national interests but also have some element of compromise that would resolve the problem," the UN envoy said in an interview to Greek state broadcaster ERT on Monday.

In another interview, Nimetz noted that all sides had to be "realistic."

"The name 'Macedonia' is in the name now, in the United Nations, and recognized by Greece with that name," he told Antenna TV late Tuesday.

"Over 100 countries recognize the state with 'Republika Makedonija', so it has 'Macedonia' in the name for most countries... so the name 'Macedonia' is connected with this country, and I think that we can find a solution that will meet Greek requirements and also satisfy the people in the northern neighbor."

People walk past a statue of Alexander the Great on the waterfront of Thessaloniki, Greece, January 17, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

A former official in the administrations of Lyndon Johnson and Jimmy Carter, Nimetz has been trying to broker a deal since 1994.

He told ERT he saw some "positive momentum" while UN sources did not rule out a breakthrough at the meeting.

Greece maintains that the use of Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to its own Macedonia -- a northern region that boasts the port cities of Thessaloniki and Kavala, as well as the core of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.

Macedonia is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations, but the Security Council acknowledged when it agreed to UN membership that this was a provisional name.

It has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under that name.

Some of the solutions floated include using the name New Macedonia or Northern Macedonia, but Greek nationalists argue that there should be no reference to Macedonia at all.

A compromise on the name is expected to be put to a referendum in Skopje and presented to the Greek parliament for endorsement, which could stoke nationalist fervor.

(Source: AFP)

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