BRUSSELS -- NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has expressed hope that Greece and Macedonia can find a solution to a decades-old dispute over the name of the former Yugoslav republic so that an invitation to join the alliance can be issued to Skopje.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with RFE/RL on May 25, Stolenberg said that it doesn’t "take that long" to become a full member after the invitation has been extended.
Greece, an EU and NATO member, has for years blocked Macedonia's efforts to join both organizations, arguing that its name implies a claim on the Greek province of Macedonia.
Stoltenberg said that it was "extremely important to support the efforts to solve the name issue and I hope that Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are able to find a solution because then we will extend an invitation to Skopje to become a member of NATO.”
"Exactly how long time that will take, I think we will be very careful to speculate about but we saw with Montenegro that it doesn't take that long a time after the invitation is extended until they can be becoming a full member," he said.
Montenegro joined NATO in June 2017 after having received the invitation in December 2015 but the NATO secretary-general warned that the timing "differs from country to country" and added: “I think it is wrong now to focus on how many months it will take. “
"The important thing now is to focus on the name issue which has been the big obstacle since 2008 where we first decided that the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be invited as soon as the name [dispute] is resolved. The issue is not yet resolved but there is a real effort made both from Skopje and Athens.,” Stoltenberg told RFE/RL.
The United Nations mediator in charge of resolving the dispute between Greece and Macedonia told reporters on May 25 that the issues "have been narrowed" and both sides are determined to reach an agreement.
UN Envoy Matthew Nimetz told reporters that talks "have been intensified considerably" following meetings that began on May 24 with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Macedonia Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
He said the ministers are heading to Brussels where they will continue their dialogue.