Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said a deal with Greece to rename his country is tantalizingly close after 26 years, even though Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said there’s no chance it will happen before a NATO meeting this summer to bring in another member to the defense alliance.
With faltering talks set to resume April 25 in Vienna under the auspices of United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has been trying for two decades to find a solution, Zaev said he still believes it can happen.
“I believe the conditions have never been better for us to achieve a comprehensive and lasting agreement,” Zaev told Agence France-Presse, adding however that failure to reach a deal would not be “the end of the world,” as both sides continued to alternately predict a deal but couch their remarks in case there isn’t.
Nikos Kotzias and FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov will also meet with Nimetz and try to get past the biggest obstacles, Greek demands that FYROM change its Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands, and that a new composite name be used domestically and internationally as well.
The leading contender is said to be Upper Macedonia although more than 140 countries already call FYROM by Macedonia, the name that FYROM leaders want although it’s the same as an abutting ancient Greek province.
Earlier, Kotzas said FYROM will not be able to make a July deadline for hoped entry into NATO because negotiations over what its permanent name should be with Greece have fallen behind schedule.
“It is totally clear that FYROM will not join NATO (in July,),” Kotzias told 24/7 radio station, because Zaev wants to hold a referendum on the terms of whatever deal is reached – if any.
FYROM first was allowed use of Macedonia by a New Democracy government which led Greece in 1992 in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement for the new country that broke away from the collapsed Yugoslavia.
But successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek territories, including the real Macedonia, as well as the second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki, along with Macedonia’s flag and Alexander the Great.
Zaev, in a concession, removed the name of the Greek conqueror from FYROM’s international airport and national road as well as taking down a statue but so far has said he won’t change the Constitution, which could prove a deal breaker in hopes to end the 26-year-long name feud.
“If we are to have an agreement, we must agree on constitutional changes. So it will go back to the fall,” said Kotizas.
Nimetz earlier this year resumed talks after a three-year break amid speculation the United States wanted FYROM to get into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
Greece, using its veto under unanimous consent rules, has kept FYROM out of NATO as well as skewering that country’s hopes of getting into the European Union but Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said he’s keen to change that, but only if FYROM changes its Constitution, with surveys showing 68 percent of Greeks opposed to the name giveaway.
So is Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the coalition led by SYRIZA under Tsipras, who has ignored two massive protests against the name giveaway.