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Mogherini Tells Macedonians To Seize 'Historic Opportunity' In Name-Change Referendum

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogerini in Skopje on September 13
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogerini in Skopje on September 13

European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini on September 13 urged Macedonians to vote in this month’s referendum on changing the country’s name, saying they "hold the key to the future" of their country.

Mogherini was the latest in a line of Western officials to visit Skopje ahead of the September 30 referendum that could clear the way for the former Yugoslav republic's accession to the EU and NATO.

The vote will seek approval of a June agreement with Greece to change Macedonia's name to the Republic of North Macedonia, ending a decades-long dispute between the two neighbors.

"The doors of the EU are open for you," Mogherini said following talks with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.

"Together we can achieve a lot, for all of our people, for our prosperity, for our security, for our stability,” she added. “You have an historic opportunity in your hands."

Earlier in the day in the Macedonian capital, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Wess Mitchell offered "heartfelt and profound" support to Macedonia, insisting that the final decision lies with voters.

The United States “also has a stake in the Western Balkans, of seeing stability and prosperity in a very important region," Mitchell said after meeting with Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.

Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg, Zaev said Macedonians were ready to grasp its "historic moment" and change its name, but he conceded that it "will be not an easy decision" for Macedonians.

U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis will embark September 16 on a trip to Skopje to "show U.S. support for Macedonia during NATO accession and continued U.S. commitment to peace and security in the region," according to the Defense Department.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and U.S. Senator Ron Johnson, who sits on a Senate subcommittee overseeing European and regional security, have also visited the city in recent days.

With reporting by AP
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