UN presents new proposals on Greece-Macedonia name dispute

January 17, 2018 GMT

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz presented new proposals Wednesday to resolve a 25-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the Balkan nation’s name and said he should know within two months whether progress can be made.

Nimetz told reporters after meeting with negotiators from both countries he is “very hopeful that this process is moving in a positive direction.”

“I really believe that we have leadership in both Athens and Skopje that genuinely want a solution,” he said. “They don’t just say they want a solution. I think they believe it’s in the national interest of both countries to solve this problem.”

Nimetz said the negotiators are taking his ideas back to their capitals and both governments have invited him to visit, which he expects to do in “the next couple of weeks.”

“I think in the next month, two months, (is) a good period in which we should know whether we can make some good, serious progress here or not,” he said.

If there is a green light, Nimetz said, it’s possible to solve the problem in six months.

He wouldn’t comment on the ideas he presented but said “I myself don’t think it’s realistic to expect the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia not to have Macedonia in some form in its name.”

Greece maintains its northern neighbor’s name implies a territorial claim to its own adjoining province of Macedonia — home of Alexander the Great, one of the most famous ancient Greek rulers.

Officially called the Republic of Macedonia when it peacefully gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the country was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because of the dispute with Greece.

As a NATO member, Greece has blocked Macedonia’s bid to join the alliance because of the name dispute. Athens is also angry at Macedonia’s appropriation of ancient Macedonian history. Macedonia counters that it covers a region that has been known as Macedonia for a long time.

Nimetz, the personal envoy of Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the leaders of Greece and Macedonia “both have national interests they want to pursue ... (and) they have to make some tough choices.”

“I think the people of the region are ready to solve this problem,” he said. “The international community really wants it solved.”

But Nimetz said there are people in Greece and Macedonia “that have a very negative attitude” and no clear solution to the problem.

“This dispute has gone on for 25 years. Should it go on for another 25 years? Is that going to be helpful to the people, to the young people, in the area? I don’t think so,” he said. “Each country is a democracy and they’re going to work it out their way, and if they don’t want an agreement there won’t be an agreement.”

But Nimetz said the leaders and the situation in the region are different now.

“I view this as a good set of ideas, a compromise and a package that both sides should feel comfortable with, and lead to a dignified and satisfactory solution,” he said.