UNITED NATIONS, Sept. 13 -- The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers signed an agreement Wednesday aimed at averting another potential war in the Balkans. The U.N.-brokered agreement was reached after four years of difficult negotiations to resolve differences between Greece and the neighboring former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia. U.N. Secretary Boutros Boutros-Ghali, who witnessed the signing, said the agreement 'constituted a great advance that should be of benefit both to them and also to the entire Balkan region.' President Clinton also welcomed the achievement, and said he would meet with representatives of both sides on Thursday. Tension erupted between the two countries after the former Yugoslav republic declared its independence in 1991. Greece imposed economic sanctions on Macedonia in February 1994 out of fear its new neighbor had territorial ambitions on Greece. Greece has rejected the use of the name Macedonia and calls the republic by the name of its capital, Skopje. Macedonia is also the name of Greece's northern province, and Athens views the republic's use of the name as a sign authorities in Skopje have designs on Greek territory. The name issue was not resolved in the agreement Wednesday but is scheduled for further discussions. Greece also objected to the former Yugoslav republic's use of a 16- pointed star on its flag, saying it was exclusively a Greek symbol. The republic's constitution, another source of dispute, vows protection for all Macedonians, everywhere, which Greece perceived as another attempt against its territorial integrity. Amid the escalation of fighting in other republics of the former Yugoslavia, there was growing concern that Athens' economic blockade on Skopje would trigger another war in the Balkans. U.N. mediator Cyrus Vance said the 'interim accord' signed Wednesday provided that each party would 'respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of the other.'
Under the accord, Greece recognized the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia as an independent sovereign state, which it had previously refused to do. Each country will establish a liaison office in the other capital. On its part, Macedonia agreed to stop using the 16-pointed star on its national flag. Although it was not clear whether the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia would amend its constitution, the accord provided 'specific and binding assurances that the constitution of the FYROM is consistent with the principles of international law and good neighborly relations.' One article of the accord further specified that Macedonia declared that 'nothing in its constitution can or should be interpreted as constituting the basis of any claim to any territory not within its existing borders.' The text of the accord failed to specify when the embargo would be lifted, but it said both parties 'shall refrain from imposing any impediment to the movement of people or goods between their territories. ' Vance said he could confirm that the accord provided 'for terminating the measures that had been imposed by the Hellenic Republic (of Greece) on 16 February 1994, and provided for replacing these measures by an open and cooperative economic relationship.' The U.S. president issued a statement welcoming the agreement, and said he plans to meet with the negotiators and representatives of the two countries on Thursday. 'Both Prime Minister (Andreas) Papandreou and President (Kiro) Gligorov deserve congratulations for demonstrating the courage and determination needed to reach an agreement that was fair to both sides,' Clinton said. 'I hope both governments will now proceed to establish friendly and enduring bilateral relations, while taking steps to resolve their remaining differences, including over the name issue.' Clinton's special envoy to the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia, Mathew Nimitz, said this was a commitment which would be implemented by both parties in good faith. The accord is scheduled to enter into force within 30 days after its signature. While it is not specified in the written agreement, the accord will also have to be ratified by the parliaments of Greece and Macedonia. But Vance said he was confident both parliaments would agree to ratify it. The 30-day period to implement the accord was also aimed at allowing time for the Macedonia to address practical measures, such as removing the 16-pointed star from passports or flags, Vance and Nimitz said. Discussions regarding the name of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia will begin at the end of October or beginning of November under the auspices of the United Nations, Vance said.