A United Nations mediator has expressed optimism that a solution is within reach to solve a 27-year-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic of Macedonia.
"I am very hopeful that this process is moving in a positive direction," the UN envoy dealing with the matter, Matthew Nimetz, said on January 17 following a meeting with diplomats from the two countries at UN headquarters in New York.
During the talks, the mediator presented to Macedonia's ambassador to the United States, Vasko Naumovski, and Greece’s negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis a proposal for a compromise that will now be discussed in Skopje and Athens.
Nimetz said that he will travel to Macedonia and Greece soon to discuss the proposal, which he did not disclose.
But he said, "I myself don't think it's realistic to expect the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia not to have Macedonia in some form in its name.
"We should know whether we can make some good, serious progress" in the next two months, Nimetz said, adding that the issue could be solved in six months.
Greece's objections to Skopje’s use of the name Macedonia since the country's independence in 1991 has complicated the bids by the former Yugoslav republic to join the Europe Union and NATO.
Nimetz on January 15 told the Greek state broadcaster ERT that he thinks "people in both countries are maybe ready to hear some solutions that are consistent with national interests but also have some element of compromise that would resolve the problem."
Nimetz, who has been trying to broker a solution to the dispute since 1994, said he recently has seen some "positive momentum" on the issue.
Athens says the use of the name Macedonia suggests Skopje has territorial claims to Greece’s northern region of Macedonia, which includes the port city of Thessaloniki.
At the UN, Macedonia is formally known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM).
However, the Security Council has agreed that it is a provisional name.
Macedonia has also been admitted to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund under the FYROM moniker.
Most countries, including Russia and the United States, recognize the country's constitutional title, the Republic of Macedonia.
Macedonia became a candidate for EU membership in December 2005.
But EU-member Greece blocked the start of negotiations, which must be agreed upon unanimously by all EU states.
Macedonia in April 2008 also presented itself it as a candidate for NATO membership under the provisional FYROM name.
But Greece, a member of NATO, again vetoed Macedonia’s membership.
The military alliance's secretary-general, Jens Stoltenberg, is due in Macedonia later on January 17 for talks on the country's renewed accession bid.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said earlier in January that he thinks the dispute could be resolved by July.
Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said a solution should be found before the end of 2018.
With reporting by AFP, ERT, and AFP