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Greece Optimistic On Resolving Name Dispute With Macedonia This Year

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has discussed the issue with his Greek counterpart. (file photo)
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has discussed the issue with his Greek counterpart. (file photo)

Greece's foreign minister says Athens wants to settle a decades-old dispute this year over the name Macedonia, which is claimed by both the Balkan country and a northern province of Greece.

"I think 2018 will be the year when foreign-policy issues that have been stuck in the mud for decades will be resolved," Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters after a meeting of Greece's inner cabinet on January 4.

"We will all contribute to the well-being of all the Balkans," he said.

The dispute has for years posed an obstacle for Macedonia's attempts to join the European Union and NATO. Skopje's new ruling coalition led by Social Democrats since last year have given priority to resolving it.

The Greek and Macedonian prime ministers, Alexis Tsipras and Zoran Zaev, discussed the issue over the phone on January 2. Zaev also visited Thessaloniki, in Greek Macedonia, on December 30 and privately met with the city's mayor.

NATO is due to reopen debate on inviting Macedonia to join in June, after Greece vetoed its bid in 2008.

Athens for years has blocked Macedonia's bids to join both the EU and the Western military alliance, contending that the name Macedonia implies a territorial claim over Greece's own northerly region of that name.

Athens also contends that by claiming the name, Macedonia is appropriating a part of Greece's ancient history.

Athens has only agreed to calling the Balkan country the "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia" in international venues,as an interim measure until the dispute is resolved.

"On the name issue, the government is negotiating and supports a compound name that will be comprehensively used throughout," Kotzias said on January 4, without elaborating.

Based by reporting by AP, dpa, and Reuters

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