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Progress Reported In Talks To Settle Macedonia-Greece Name Dispute


Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov (left), UN envoy Matthew Nimetz, and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias in Vienna on April 25

Macedonia and Greece are "very dedicated" to resolving their long-running name dispute, a UN mediator said on April 25 following talks between the two countries' foreign ministers in Vienna.

"We discussed the open issues between the parties, including the name issue," Matthew Nimetz said after a meeting in Vienna between Nikos Kotzias of Greece and his Macedonian counterpart, Nikola Dimitrov.

"It was an intense discussion, very cordial and...both sides are very dedicated to reaching a solution. The process will continue in the next weeks," the veteran American diplomat told reporters.

Macedonian leaders are hoping to resolve the dispute this year to accelerate the country's bid to join the European Union. Greece, an EU member, has for years blocked Macedonia's membership in the bloc, as well as in NATO, over the name dispute.

The dispute arose in 1991 when Macedonia declared independence following the collapse of communist Yugoslavia.

Athens objected to its northern neighbor using the name Macedonia because it has a northern province by the same name and feared Macedonia's move implied territorial claims on that province.

Negotiations over the matter languished for years but made progress after Macedonia in February agreed to change the name of the capital's Alexander the Great airport to Skopje International Airport in a goodwill gesture to Greece.

The motorway linking Macedonia with Greece was also renamed the Friendship Highway.

Several possible new names have been floated for the Balkan country, with Gorna Makedonija or Upper Macedonia the most frequently mentioned.

"I believe that we have never had better circumstances to find a complete solution that will last for centuries and will remain forever," Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev told AFP earlier this month.

Greek officials have also expressed optimism that the dispute might be resolved this year.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP
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