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Greece Sees 'Window Of Opportunity' To Settle Name Dispute With Macedonia

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras

Leaders of Greece and Macedonia say they have been working hard to settle their decadeslong dispute over the name Macedonia.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras says he sees a "window of opportunity" to resolve the issue, and on January 11 he called on the Greek Orthodox church to restrain its strong opposition to allowing the Balkan country to use the name, which is also claimed by a northern province in Greece.

Tsipras told Greek state television ERT that he believes an agreement would benefit all the countries in the region.

Greece's Foreign Minister Nikow Kotzias this week mentioned "New Macedonia" as a name Athens might accept for its northern neighbor and said that with 100 nations already recognizing the Balkan nation as Macedonia, Athens has little alternative but to compromise.

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has also given top priority to resolving the dispute, which has hampered Macedonia's bid to join the European Union and NATO.

Kotzias and Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov met on January 11 in the Greek port city of Thessaloniki in the latest effort to find a solution.

The Foreign Ministry in Athens said after the meeting that they will continue their efforts on January 17, when they are scheduled to meet with the United Nations special envoy for the Macedonian issue, Matthew Nimetz, at UN headquarters in New York.

Diplomats in Athens said on January 11 that the UN mediator might suggest the name "New Macedonia" as a compromise solution.

"There is a general feeling of fatigue in both countries due to this long-lasting dispute," Bujar Osmani, Macedonia's deputy prime minister, said in an interview with the Associated Press on January 11.

"What I think is important is that we have achieved substantial progress in confidence-building between the two countries that finally will result in finding a...solution of the dispute," he said.

Athens and Skopje have been locked in a dispute over the name Macedonia since the former Yugoslavia disintegrated in 1991, with Greece citing the disagreement as its reason for blocking Macedonia's efforts to join the EU and NATO.

Greek nationalists claim the name Macedonia is an important part of Greek history and culture that they say should not be "usurped" by their northern neighbor, which also celebrates Alexander the Great and other Hellenic causes and achievements.

The Greek Orthodox Church, Greek nationalist parties, and residents of northern Greece have been especially opposed to any compromise that incorporates the name Macedonia and have planned rallies in northern Greece later this month.

Greece and the EU currently recognize the small Balkan country by its provisional name, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), the name it also used when it was admitted to the UN.

Skopje insists that designation was never intended to be permanent.

With reporting by AP, AFP, Reuters, and dpa
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