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UN Mediator In Athens For Talks On Dispute With Macedonia


Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias (right) welcomes UN envoy Matthew Nimetz in Athens on January 30.

UN mediator Matthew Nimetz on January 30 held talks with officials in Athens amid efforts to end a long-running dispute between Balkan neighbors Greece and Macedonia over the latter's official name.

Greece has been objecting to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia since its independence from the former Yugoslavia in September 1991, an objection which has complicated the Balkan country’s bids to join the Europe Union and NATO.

"I think there is a momentum here and we should seize the momentum," Nimetz told journalists after a meeting with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias -- and ahead of similar talks in Macedonia's capital, Skopje.

"There's a time for decision-making and I think we're there," Nimetz said. "So I think, in my view, we're talking about weeks of discussion to see where we are."

Greece disagrees with Skopje using the name Macedonia, arguing that this implies territorial claims on its own adjoining province, also called Macedonia.

The dispute has prevented Macedonia from joining NATO, of which Greece is a member. The left-led governments in both countries have pledged to seek a solution this year.

"The first thing to discuss is a name in the language or languages of the neighboring country which cannot be translated in any other language," Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias told ERT television after the talks.

Kotzias added that Athens will submit a draft proposal to Skopje as soon as next month.

Greek officials favor a compound name that will somehow qualify the word Macedonia, although it is unpopular with the right-wing populists who are the junior government partner in Athens.

Many Greeks also 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.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on January 27 that he is ready to accept a "composite name" that includes the moniker "Macedonia."

That could mean a name such as Upper Macedonia or New Macedonia, he said following talks with the leaders of most opposition parliamentary parties.

But Tsipras failed to receive backing from Greek opposition parties, with Conservative New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis saying, "We will not divide Greeks to unite Skopje."

Based on reporting by AP and Reuters
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