A United Nations negotiator leading talks to end a decades-old dispute over Macedonia’s name says progress is being made between Greek and Macedonian officials but difficult issues remain.
UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, who helped put together a deal in 1995 that enabled the Balkan state to join the UN under the temporary designation "Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia," said on March 30 that talks to end the disagreement will continue in the coming months.
"There are still difficult questions that need to be addressed, but in my opinion and long experience, there is a very positive feeling," Nimetz said after a meeting in Vienna with the foreign ministers of both countries.
"Both ministers are focused on long-term relations, stability in the region, the importance of good relations between the two countries, and I hope that we will continue to work with this positive approach," he added.
Greece objects to the former Yugoslav republic's use of the name Macedonia, which Athens says could imply territorial claims over its own northern region of the same name.
Negotiations between the two neighbors have been inconclusive since 1991, when Macedonia gained independence from the former Yugoslavia.
The current round of talks kicked off in January with the aim of finding a solution by a NATO summit in July. An end to the dispute would pave Macedonia's way toward NATO and EU membership, both of which have been blocked by Athens.
"I can say that we made conditional progress, because as we go forward, we come to the tough questions," Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov said.
"We worked on the logic of what is most important for the Republic of Macedonia and the Republic of Greece and whether in the compromise we are moving to cover the two things. However, it is not surprising that the more openly and the more specifically we are working towards a solution, so the difficulties are getting more and more visible," he added.
Last week, Greece's foreign minister, Nikos Kotzias, traveled to Macedonia for talks on settling the dispute. He made the trip on the first direct flight from Athens to Skopje in more than 10 years.
It was made possible after Macedonian authorities renamed Skopje’s airport from Alexander the Great -- the famed ruler of the ancient Kingdom of Macedonia, who is also celebrated in Greece -- to Skopje International Airport in a goodwill gesture to Athens.
Kotzias told reporters after the discussions that the two sides had identified the main issues that still divide them and that he hoped "a big step" can be taken at the next meeting.
Both sides have said they would accommodate a compound name with a geographical qualifier such as "northern" or "upper" Macedonia, though details on how the change would occur still need to be ironed out.