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UN Mediator Meets With Macedonian Leaders On Name Dispute


United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz arrives for a meeting with Macedonia's prime minister in Skopje on February 1.

UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz on February 1 voiced optimism that Balkan neighbors Macedonia and Greece could resolve a name dispute that has strained relations between the two countries for more than a quarter of a century.

After talks with Macedonia's leadership in Skopje, Nimetz told reporters that officials in both countries appear highly motivated to reach a solution over the name within the next couple of months.

Nimetz held meetings with Macedonian President Gjorge Ivanov, Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov, and party leaders.

"I am very, very optimistic. There is a window of opportunity and I think we should go forward quickly and move to solution in the next couple of months," Nimetz said after traveling to Macedonia following talks in Greece.

"[I] generally feel the process is moving forward. There is a good will on both sides to reach a solution to this long-standing problem."

The dispute broke out after Macedonia, for decades a part of the former Yugoslavia, gained independence in 1991.

Greece argues the neighbor's name implies claims on its own province of Macedonia and wants it changed. The Macedonian government denies the charge.

Greek officials are said to favor a modifier to the word Macedonia by adding "Upper," "New," or "North" to it.

UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz on February 1 voiced optimism that Balkan neighbors Macedonia and Greece could resolve a name dispute that has strained relations between the two countries for more than a quarter of a century.​

'Dignified' Solution

NATO member Greece has been blocking Macedonia's accession to the alliance since 2008 until a solution is found.

Speaking alongside Nimetz, Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said Skopje wants a solution that will be "dignified" for the people in both countries -- but also a solution that would not endanger Macedonia's national identity and language.

But Dimitrov also voiced caution.

"I think the chances for us to find a way along the lines of what I talked about is by not being too explicit in the public until we have something -- both sides."

About 200 protesters gathered outside the European Union mission in Skopje during Nimetz's visit, demanding that talks be terminated.

Meanwhile, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said Athens would soon submit draft proposals to resolve the issue, adding that a settlement could be reached in the coming months.

Asked by Reuters what would constitute progress for Athens if the dispute with Skopje was not settled by June, Kotzias said, "It will be settled."

However, many Greeks 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.

The Greek Orthodox church has endorsed the rally, as well as influential organizations representing Greek communities in the United States and Canada.

With additional reporting by Reuters and AP
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