Macedonia PM: Greece dragging feet on name dispute negotiations

July 11, 2013 at 12:02 AM
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VILNIUS, Lithuania, July 9 (UPI) -- Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski says Greece is dragging its feet in efforts to settle the decades-old name dispute between the countries.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting Monday in Vilnius with Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, Gruevski said he has yet to receive a response from a letter he sent this month to Greek counterpart Antonis Samaras calling for speeding up high-level negotiations over the name dispute, the Skopje daily Dnevnik reported.

"I still have no answer about a week after I sent the letter," he said. "I hope that in the coming days I will get a positive response. If there is a positive response and we can start an intense dialogue, we may have a chance to come to a solution, but if there is no dialogue, there will be no solution."

Gruevski was in Vilnius to meet with Butkevicius, whose country this month assumed the rotating presidency of the European Council and has pledged to promote progress in Macedonia's bids to join the EU and NATO.

But Skopje's 22-year-old dispute with Greece over Macedonia's name is hampering those efforts.

Known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia in multilateral formats due to the dispute, Greece opposes allowing the country to be officially known as "Macedonia" because it fears it would open the door to territorial claims on its own province of the same name. Some 700,000 ethnic Macedonians currently live in Greek territory, Skopje says.

Bulgaria has similar worries, and has demanded Macedonia to sign a bilateral treaty relinquishing any territorial claims.

In his letter to Samaras, Gruevski proposed to set up negotiating teams headed by the two prime ministers and including the countries' foreign ministers, to be chaired by United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz, the newspaper said.

The Macedonian leader said Monday his country has met the criteria to start accession talks with the EU and NATO, but because of Greece's existing membership in those organizations, its veto is frustrating the process.

"We met the necessary criteria to start talks as early as 2009 but it was delayed due to blockages from our southern neighbor," he said. "Then we went to the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where we won. It is a court established by the United Nations, who said that Macedonia is right."

Butkevicius, meanwhile, said he supports Macedonia's integration into the European institutions, but stressed it is up to Macedonia itself to help generate momentum to break the deadlock.

"Lithuania supports Macedonia's intentions to join the EU -- we wish to see progress in the negotiation process during the period of our presidency of the Council of the European Union," he said.

"However, Macedonia has to take initiative and seek progress: fully implement the 'March 1 Agreement' (reconciling a violent political impasse), seek agreement with Greece over the name, and sign an agreement with Bulgaria on good bilateral relations and cooperation."

Gruevski's comments came less than a month after Greek President Karolos Papoulias slammed Macedonia over its "intransigence" on the name dispute and accusing it of propagating pan-Slavic "Macedonism" among Slavs living in Greece, Kathimerini reported.

"The U.N. has decided not to accept the country under its constitutional name, thus legitimizing Greece's opposition," he said, adding, "As long as Skopje insists on the ideology of 'Macedonism,' the gates of NATO will stay closed and its process of European integration will remain frozen."

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