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Athens holds its ground in name dispute March 31, 2008

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Greece and FYROM still at odds as US ups pressure before NATO summit

The Greek government yesterday insisted that it would not be pushed into accepting a compromise on the Macedonia name dispute before Wednesday’s NATO summit, as Western pressure for an immediate solution intensified.

«No solution means no invitation for Skopje to join NATO» Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis told Parliament on Saturday, stressing «only a mutually acceptable solution… can form the basis for constructive relations within the alliance.»

Meanwhile US officials cranked up the pressure on Athens to agree to a settlement so that the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) can join NATO. US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Greece’s Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on Friday night to stress Washington’s resolve. And, sources said, US President George W. Bush is considering inviting Karamanlis and FYROM’s Premier Nikola Gruevski for talks on the matter before the NATO summit gets under way.

Bakoyannis has stuck to her guns, dismissing Rice’s description of the name spat as «something that has to do with antiquity» and stressing, in an interview published in yesterday’s Ethnos, that «we are not a country that takes orders from anyone.» Bakoyannis added that «the pressure of time will not lead us to accept proposals in the form of an ultimatum.»

The Greek FM said she believed United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz might make a fresh proposal before Wednesday but said, «It will be difficult to reach a solution before the summit.»

But her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki said he thought a deal could be struck by then. «We are running out of time but I think the possibility (of an agreement) still exists,» he told reporters on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Slovenia on Saturday. He said FYROM’s parliament will today discuss Nimetz’s latest proposal for a solution to the name dispute – Republic of Macedonia (Skopje) – which is said to have appealed to FYROM.

Milososki and Bakoyannis had been due to hold talks in Slovenia at the weekend but the Greek side canceled the meeting after US pressure intensified.

Most European Foreign Ministers at the Slovenia summit avoided taking a stance on the FYROM accession issue. But Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier warned of the regional repercussions of blocking Skopje’s bid to join NATO. «This summit does not have the right to fail and must not replace more stability for less stability,» he said.

31-03-08_poster1.jpg  In the meantime Greece has strongly condemned the appearance of offensive billboards featuring the Greek Flag in Skopje. Greece handed over a protest note to FYROM, requesting an immediate removal of a billboard in Skopje showing a Nazi swastika attached to Greek flag.

Greece’s Ambassador to Skopje, Alexandra Papadopoulou, has been instructed, within the day, to make a strong demarche to the Foreign Ministry of FYROM, requesting the immediate removal of the offensive billboard.

31-03-08_poster2.jpg  “This unacceptable poster, which was circulated via a private initiative and raised on Skopje’s streets, directly insults our country’s National Symbol and our struggle against fascism and Nazism,” Greek Foreign Ministry spokesman Koumoutsakos said.

“This incident demonstrates the huge mistake made by those who invest in nationalism and bigotry. It also confirms, once again, the correctness of Greece’s position that a necessary condition for the establishment of relations of solidarity and allied relations is, in practice, respect of good-neighborly relations between countries and peoples,” he added.

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Skopje ups the tension over name dispute March 26, 2008

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FYROM Premier accuses Greece of ‘blackmail’ before UN talks

Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) were last night involved in yet another effort to solve their name dispute but only after the neighboring country’s Prime Minister had accused Athens of trying to “blackmail” Skopje over the issue.

The comment by Nikola Gruevski came only hours before representatives from both sides were due to meet with the United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz in New York for further discussions aimed at finding some compromise. Nimetz was not due to make any public comments about the meetings until about midnight, Greek time, last night.

However, the statement by Gruevski earlier in the day appeared to heighten tension between the two sides ahead of yesterday’s talks.

The FYROM Prime Minister accused Greece of trying to get the result it wants from the negotiations by threatening to block Skopje’s bid to join NATO at a summit that begins in Bucharest on April 2. “The situation now is that Greece intends to use its veto if we do not accept its blackmail,” said Gruevski. “We cannot accept blackmail.”

He added that FYROM could break off talks with Greece if Athens decides to use its veto. “From what I can see now, I cannot be much of an optimist. In case of a veto from Greece, the negotiations will enter such deep crisis that perhaps they will be stopped.”

The response from Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was immediate. “Mr Gruevski’s comments, just a few hours before today’s crucial meeting within the UN framework, do not help the whole effort as they predict a negative outcome. We believe in this process and will not follow this line of thinking.”

Bakoyannis indicated that time was running out for finding a solution to the dispute before the NATO summit but that a “consensual, practical and enforceable” compromise could be reached.

Name dispute talks to continue tomorrow March 24, 2008

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There was a climate of cautious optimism in Athens and Skopje over the weekend ahead of fresh negotiations on the Macedonia name dispute in New York tomorrow.

In Athens, diplomats said that a compromise could be reached ahead of NATO’s summit on April 2-4, where the possible accession of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) is to be discussed. Officially Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis was more reserved, saying, after a meeting with Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis, that she “felt neither optimistic nor pessimistic.”

Bakoyannis is to meet her FYROM counterpart Antonio Milososki on the sidelines of a European Union summit in Slovenia on Friday to discuss any headway made in New York by the two country’s representatives in United Nations-mediated talks.

On Saturday, FYROM’s President, Branko Crvenkovski, stressed the need for a “logical compromise” to the name dispute. FYROM’s envoy Nikola Dimitrov told reporters he had been given “precise instructions” but did not elaborate.

FYROM talks in the final stretch March 9, 2008

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As United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz prepares to invite diplomats from Athens and Skopje to the next phase of talks in a flagging effort to resolve the Macedonia name dispute, Greek government officials are preparing for a flurry of diplomacy.

Nimetz is to invite Adamantios Vassilakos and Nikola Dimitrov, the representatives of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) respectively, for talks in Geneva this week. The envoy, whose latest proposals were rejected by Skopje, is not expected to make any new suggestions but to press FYROM to shift its stance, sources said yesterday. The same sources said talks will continue until the very last moment.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis, who on Thursday threatened Athens will use its veto against FYROM’s NATO bid, is preparing for a series of talks with European counterparts on the sidelines of an EU summit on Monday. She will then fly to Paris for talks with her French counterpart Bernard Kouchner. Premier Costas Karamanlis will join the summit on Thursday.

Meanwhile FYROM has been promoting its NATO bid with a full-page ad that appeared in several international newspapers yesterday. It argues FYROM’s case for joining NATO and criticizes Greek pressure.

US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried arrived in Skopje last night for talks on the name dispute. Before his trip he called for “outstanding issues” to be resolved by the first week of April when the NATO summit will begin.

No movement on FYROM March 6, 2008

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EU, NATO push for Skopje compromise; UN envoy’s latest talks inconclusive

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday dug in his heels over the Macedonia name dispute, stressing that Athens will not hesitate to block Skopje from joining NATO unless the disagreement is resolved.

“Greece’s stance is very clear as regards Skopje and we have clarified it absolutely to allies ad partners,” Karamanlis said. “I do not feel that I am under pressure from anyone,” he added, apparently dismissing speculation regarding US attempts to influence Greek policy in this area.

But there was pressure on Karamanlis at home. Thousands of Greeks rallied in the northern city of Thessaloniki yesterday evening, urging the government not to accept a name for the Former Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that could lead to territorial claims on Greece’s northern region of Macedonia.

The main rally in Thessaloniki, a street protest organized by the far-right LAOS, was not attended by politicians from other parties. Thessaloniki’s Bishop Anthimos led a separate rally in a local sports stadium.

The United Nations envoy entrusted with solving the name dispute, Matthew Nimetz, arrived in the northern city last night to brief Greek negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis following his talks with political leaders in Skopje. Nimetz said the talks had failed to make any headway but delivered an upbeat assessment nonetheless. “I got a lot of encouragement to keep at this task,” Nimetz said. “There is a great interest here to solve this problem,” he added.

Meanwhile, European Union and NATO officials both appeared to nudge Skopje over the name issue. “If we can’t settle this issue, I’m afraid it will have negative ramifications (for EU accession),” the EU’s Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn said. And NATO representative James Appathurai remarked: “Greece has made it clear that it wants to find a solution and that it will participate in talks with an open mind – we hope Skopje’s government does the same.”

Sources said yesterday that US President George W. Bush may drop Skopje from the itinerary of his scheduled tour of Balkan states next month. According to the original plan, Bush was to visit Zagreb, Tirana and Skopje following a NATO summit in Bucharest on April 2-4.

FYROM tension November 9, 2007

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FM rules out chance of early elections over dispute

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis yesterday stressed that increasingly feverish debate over the “Macedonia” name issue would not lead to early elections, as has been suggested by some.

The Minister commented on the insistence of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) on calling itself “Macedonia,” the name of a northern Greek region. “It is impossible to develop alliances when intransigency and irredentism reign,” Bakoyannis told Parliament’s cross-party foreign affairs committee. Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alekos Alavanos, who just visited FYROM, accused the government of abandoning “Macedonia – Greek Macedonia.”

UN seeks FYROM break November 5, 2007

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Athens, Skopje must clarify priorities, ease bilateral tensions, envoy says

Athens and Skopje must clarify their priorities and defuse bilateral tensions before a compromise can be reached on their dispute over the official name of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), UN mediator Matthew Nimetz said in an interview published yesterday.

Nimetz, who met with Greek and FYROM envoys in New York last week, praised Greece’s positive stance and appeared to dismiss negative comments made by FYROM’s prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, on Friday.

Questioned about Gruevski’s refusal to consider an alternative to FYROM’s constitutional name, Nimetz said he would not respond to “reactions” until he had received “the official stances” of both countries to his latest suggestions.

Asked about Greece’s decision to consider a composite name for FYROM, which would clearly differentiate the Balkan state from the region in northern Greece, Nimetz said, “Greece wants to solve the problem, it is making a sincere effort in this direction.”

Nimetz said his chief aim was to determine the priorities of both governments to help him draw up a viable framework for “an honorable and fair solution” to the 16-year spat. “I asked both sides to examine all eventualities so that a solution can be found within a reasonable time frame,” the envoy said.

Nimetz did not give a deadline for a settlement but developments are expected ahead of a NATO summit in April, when the alliance is due to consider FYROM’s prospects for accession. Nimetz said he plans to visit both Athens and Skopje “in the near future” for talks with government officials.

In a related development, FYROM sources in New York said that Skopje is considering broaching the issue of the “Macedonian minority” in Greece.