UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz has arrived in Macedonia for talks with the country's leadership, in a relaunched effort to settle a dispute with neighboring Greece over Macedonia's official name.
Nimetz, who has already met with Greek officials in Athens, says there appears to be momentum for solving the dispute that has poisoned the two countries' relations since Macedonia won independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991.
On February 1, Nimetz will meet Macedonia's president, government officials, and opposition leaders.
"I think there is a momentum here and we should seize the momentum," Nimetz told journalists in Athens after a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias on January 30.
"There's a time for decision-making and I think we're there," Nimetz said. "So I think, in my view, we're talking about weeks of discussion to see where we are."
"I think there is a will [in Athens], and I believe also in Skopje, to try to reach a settlement," Nimetz said.
The dispute has frozen Macedonia's NATO accession hopes, as alliance member Greece refuses to endorse its bid until a solution is found.
Greece disagrees with Skopje using the name Macedonia, arguing that this implies territorial claims on its own adjoining province, also called Macedonia.
"The first thing to discuss is a name in the language or languages of the neighboring country which cannot be translated in any other language," Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told ERT television after the talks.
Kotzias added that Athens will submit a draft proposal to Skopje as soon as next month.
Greek officials favor a compound name that would somehow qualify the word Macedonia, although it is unpopular with right-wing populists who are the junior government partner in Athens.
Many Greeks also object to any use of the word Macedonia in their neighbor's official name.
A nationalist rally in the northern city of Thessaloniki drew more than 100,000 people on January 21, and a similar rally is scheduled in Athens on February 4.
With reporting by AP and AFP