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Greek PM In Skopje To Boost Defense, Economic Ties -- And For A Selfie

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (left) and North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hug as they attend a news conference in Skopje on April 2.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras (left) and North Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev hug as they attend a news conference in Skopje on April 2.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has received a warm welcome in North Macedonia, just months after the two neighbors settled a decades-long dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.

The one-day trip on April 2 is the first time a Greek leader has visited Greece's northern neighbor since it became independent in 1991.

Tsipras was greeted by Defense Minister Radmila Sekerinska at the airport in Skopje airport before being taken to government headquarters to meet Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

As a sign of a potential new era in relations, the two leaders posed, smiling, as they took a selfie outside the building.

Zaev called it a "truly historic day" as he posted the photo to Twitter.

"Happy moments for an even happier future for the peoples of our friendly countries," he wrote.

The two men signed a series of agreements before holding a joint news conference, during which Tsipras said: "We have lost a lot of time and now we must rapidly catch up."

"We want to build a strong bond of trust and stability," he added.

"It is a milestone to be leaving all these difficulties behind," Zaev said. "We have showed Europe and the world that with bold decisions anything is possible.

Tsipras and Zaev reached a deal in 2018 to add "North" to Macedonia’s name, an agreement that will likely pave the way for Skopje’s eventual membership in NATO -- most likely later this year or early 2020 – and the European Union.

The agreement came into force in February following ratification by both parliaments despite heavy opposition from nationalist critics who said their respective sides were making too many concessions.

Greece had objected to its neighbor's use of "Macedonia," because of the northern Greek province of the same name.

'Historic Visit'

Tsipras traveled to North Macedonia with 10 Greek cabinet ministers and more than 20 business representatives as the two countries look to increase trade and defense ties.

"This visit is historic," Tsipras told the state-run MIA news agency on April 1, saying the future would see the countries as "partners and allies."

"It is our responsibility -- mine and Zoran's -- to show that our nations can only benefit from the path that is now open," he said.

Prior to the Tsipras’ arrival, Zaev told the AFP news agency that some 500 million euros in new Greek investment would come to the smaller, poorer Balkan country as a result of the historic agreement and the new relationship.

"North Macedonia will have huge economic benefits from the deal that I believe will be seen in every area of the economy," he said.

Greek forces are also set to assist in the policing and protection of North Macedonian airspace.

Tsipras and Zaev have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize because of their efforts to narrow their countries' differences.

With reporting by AFP, The Greek Times, dpa, AP, and the BBC

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