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Greek, Macedonian Officials See Progress In Name Dispute

Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (front) speaks at a news conference with Greece's Nikos Kotzias.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias says he and his Macedonian counterpart made progress toward reaching a settlement in the decades-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic.

"Today, we made steps to solve the problems we inherited," Kotzias told a joint news conference in Skopje on March 23 after with meeting with Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.

“We are committed to resolve them and contribute to the friendship between the two peoples, to stability and security, the development of both countries and the whole region," he said.

"We have agreed in great degree what we want for the future," he added.

Dimitrov told the news conference that "we have to overcome the current difference [over the name]...which is not easy."

He said he was seeking a "common solution" that would be "worthy...without humiliation."

Kotzias' flight to the Macedonian capital was the first direct one from Athens to Skopje in more than 10 years.

It was made possible after Macedonian authorities renamed Skopje’s airport from Alexander the Great -- the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia, who is also celebrated in Greece -- to Skopje International Airport in a goodwill gesture to Athens.

Greece objects to the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name Macedonia, which Athens says could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.

Negotiations between the two neighbors have been inconclusive since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.

The row has hampered Macedonia's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Greece is a member of both entities.

Media have reported that compromise solutions include adding extra elements to Macedonia's name, such as Upper Macedonia, New Macedonia, or Northern Macedonia.

However, mass protests in both countries are an indication of popular resistance to any compromise.

On March 4, about 10,000 people took to the streets of the Macedonian capital to protest a possible change to the name of the country. A demonstration in Athens drew tens of thousands of people a month earlier.

The Greek and Macedonian foreign ministers are to meet again in Vienna on March 30 at talks hosted by UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz.

With reporting by RFE/RL's Balkan Service, AP, AFP, and dpa
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