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Macedonia's Zaev Sees Name Dispute With Greece Resolved By July

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (file photo)

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has said that Skopje and Athens have a real chance of settling a decades-old dispute over the name Macedonia by July.

"I believe it's possible to find a solution by the end of the first semester of 2018," Zaev told Greece's Alpha TV in an interview aired on January 7, as Orthodox Christians in both countries celebrated Christmas.

"Our strategic orientation is conclusively [toward] the EU and NATO," Zaev also said.

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.

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

Greece in 2008 blocked Macedonia's bid to join NATO under its provisional name of 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.

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 after a meeting of Greece's inner cabinet.

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

Zaev and his Greek counterpart, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, discussed the matter over the phone on January 2.

Zaev also visited Thessaloniki, in Greek Macedonia, on December 30 and privately met with the city's mayor.

With reporting by Alpha TV and AFP
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