March 23, 2018 / 2:43 PM / a year ago

Macedonia, Greece move to resolve decades long name dispute, Greek FM says

BELGRADE (Reuters) - Macedonia and Greece on Friday “made steps” to resolve a dispute over the ex-Yugoslav republic’s name which has bedevilled relations for more than two decades, Greek foreign minister Nikos Kotzias said.

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (L) meets with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Skopje, Macedonia March 23, 2018. REUTERS/Ognen Teofilovski

Success in resolving the issue would open Macedonia’s path towards NATO and EU membership, which has been blocked by Athens which says the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece’s own northern region of that name.

The two states have made little progress on the issue since 1991, when Macedonia split from the former Yugoslavia. Pending a settlement, it was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).

Kotzias and his Macedonian counterpart met on Friday in Skopje to discuss details of the draft proposals their government made on how to resolve the dispute.

“Today we made steps to solve the problems,” Kotzias told reporters after meeting his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov.

“Texts are made to clarify the positions and suggestions of both sides. What is agreed between us, (United Nations special envoy Matthew) Mr. Nimetz will put into one text that will be submitted to the Security Council and the General Assembly of the U.N,” he said.

“We have agreed in great degree what we want for the future,” he said.

The new government of Prime Minister Zoran Zaev which took over last May pledged to work closer with Greece to bring the 2 million-strong nation closer to EU and NATO membership.

Kotzias arrived in Skopje on Thursday. He is the first Greek foreign minister to fly in to Skopje airport after 12 years.

Both Macedonian and Greek officials have said both countries would be ready to accept a compound name with a geographical “qualifier” such as Northern Macedonia or Upper Macedonia, but the two parties are yet to agree if that would require change of Macedonia’s constitution and to which extent.

Reporting by Kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac; Editing by Richard Balmforth

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