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Macedonian Deputy PM In Athens For Talks On Name Dispute

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani (right) with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Athens.

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister Bujar Osmani has met with Greek government officials in Athens in an effort to settle a decades-old dispute over the name Macedonia.

"We are committed to finding a solution in this six months," said Osmani after the talks on January 9.

He added that "2018 is the golden year of opportunity for my country to make progress in terms of Euro-Atlantic integration."

The meeting comes ahead of a new round of UN-mediated talks between Macedonian and Greek negotiators Vasko Naumovski and Adamantios Vasilakis to be held in New York on January 17, Macedonian diplomatic sources told RFE/RL.

Greece has objected to Skopje's use of the name Macedonia since its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, arguing that it implies territorial ambitions on parts of the country.

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

'Rational Solution'

Greece's objections have complicated Skopje's aspirations to join NATO and the European Union.

In 2008, Greece blocked Macedonia's bid to join NATO under its provisional name, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), because of the dispute.

NATO is due to reopen debate on inviting the country to join the Western military alliance in June.

Osmani on January 9 refused to say anything about the position of the Macedonian and Greek delegations, but said he believed Athens had the "sincerity and commitment"' to resolve the dispute.

"There are a lot of emotional layers,” he also said. “We need to peel them off to find a rational solution."

Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said that the talks were made possible after Macedonia’s government abandoned "extreme positions." He did not elaborate.

Dozens of lawmakers and supporters of the far-right Golden Dawn party gathered outside the Greek Foreign Ministry to protest the meeting, many chanting "traitors, traitors."

Skopje's ruling coalition led by Social Democrats since last year has given priority to resolving the name dispute.

In an interview aired on January 7, Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told Greece's Alpha TV that Skopje and Athens have a real chance of settling the issue by July.

And on January 4, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told reporters that Athens wants to solve the dispute this year.

"I think 2018 will be the year when foreign policy issues that have been stuck in the mud for decades will be resolved," Kotzias said.

With reporting by AP and Reuters