UN Mediator Matthew Nimetz announced a meeting between the Prime Ministers of Greece and Skopje
Athens.- (GreekNewsOnline, ANA-MPA, Reuters)
The Prime Ministers of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, will meet on the sidelines of the EU-Western Balkans summit in Sofia on May 17, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz said on Saturday, after a six-hour meeting with the foreign ministers of both countries in Sounio. The talks took place at the same hotel where the Visegrad4 plus Balkan4 foreign ministers had met on Friday.
Speaking to the press, Nimetz said Foreign Ministers Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov had a “very serious meeting.” Positive work had been done, he said, and the two ministers would be briefing their prime ministers who were expected to meet in Bulgaria on May 17 on the sidelines of an EU-Western Balkans summit.
The foreign ministers, Nikos Kotzias of Greece and Nikola Dimitrov of Macedonia, did not take questions.
The two countries are hoping to sort out differences over the name dispute that have soured relations for over two decades and blocked FYROM’s aspirations to join the European Union and NATO.
Athens and Skopje are reportedly examining a scenario whereby the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) will be given enough time to approve a deal that will ensure that its name will be used “erga omnes” – domestically and internationally – and to review its constitution.
According to this scenario, FYROM will be immediately inducted into NATO and will begin accession talks with the European Union once it approves these two key Greek demands.
That was the first time the two foreign ministers and Nimetz had a meeting in Athens, with previous trilateral talks held in Vienna where the UN has an office.
In statements on Friday concerning the negotiations with Dimitrov, Kotzias had noted: “We have been called to solve a problem that we didn’t create, neither us, nor him (Dimitrov), nor today’s governments; we have an obligation to the region to find a solution.”
Dimitrov, who attended the Visegrad meeting on Sounio on Friday, told ANA that it is an opportunity to take advantage of the dynamic created in the talks. “We are a small country, but we are neighbors. We all wish to have happy and friendly neighbours, and we respect Greece,” he said.
UN mediated efforts have intensified in recent months in order to resolve the row, which started in 1991 when FYROM declared independence from Yugoslavia and chose the name “Macedonia”, which is also the name of a northern Greek province.
Athens is worried that the use of the same name by the neighboring state could lead to territorial claims.
All sides have expressed confidence lately that FYROM and Greece can strike an agreement on FYROM’s new name in the coming weeks before the EU summit scheduled for late June when EU enlargement will be on the agenda.
The two countries decided last year to renew their efforts to try to reach a settlement well before the summer.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras hopes to resolve the matter to gain more political leverage in Europe, and at the same time increase his popularity at home where many Greeks feel the country’s debt crisis and three massive bailouts have compromised its sovereignty.
Meanwhile, FYROM’s Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who came to power a year ago, wants to accelerate his country’s accession to NATO and the EU to boost international support for his fragile coalition.
Greece has said a compromise could include a compound name with a geographical or chronological qualifier by which the country would be known and referred to in all international institutions – the so-called “erga omnes”.
Examples could include Upper Macedonia and North Macedonia.
The government expects good developments soon in the talks with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the name issue, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos claimed in an interview to the newspaper “ThessNews” on Saturday.
“As the talks with FYROM progress, it is clear that the authorities in the neighbouring country are become more and more aware of the need to find a solution,” he said. The Greek government’s position was known, he added, as was its will to find a solution, something that would greatly enhance the position of both countries.
“Consequently, the Greek foreign minister and Greek diplomacy will continue to work in this context and we expect good developments soon,” he said.