SOAFIA, Bulgaria – “We had exceptionally interesting talks which will have an impact on the future of the region and the broader European Union, said Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras on Thursday after the completion of the EU-West Balkans Summit in Sofia.
Tsipras said that Greece supports the European prospects of western Balkan nations and referred to the country’s geopolitical role in the area.
Talks with FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev went through the night in a bid to solve the name dispute, said Tsipras.
“In the evening we had the opportunity to have a very substantial discussion until the early morning hours and had a second meeting this morning. I must tell you that we had substantial negotiations. However, there are still a number of issues as they are complicated multi level negotiations. We had to work through the night and today to discuss in a very constructive and essential manner,” he said.
“I believe that we have covered a large part of the distance but there is more to cross. It is a difficult procedure and we are examining step by step all of the details, but we are not in a position to be talking about an agreement,” said Tsipras.
Questioned on what areas the two sides have agreed on, Tsipras said “You either agree on everything or don’t agree on anything. We are looking for solutions, without crossing any red lines.”
— Alexis Tsipras (@tsipras_eu) May 17, 2018
FYROM PREMIER PUSHES NAME DEAL WITH GREECE, NATO, EU ENTRY
Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said he’s still hopeful of ending a 26-year dispute over his country’s name with Greece in time to get into NATO by a summer meeting and with hopes of European Union membership some day.
Zaev and Greek Premier Alexis Tsipras were to meet May 17 in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia at a gathering of EU and Western Balkans leaders after talks had stalled over Zaev’s refusal to change his country’s Constitution to remove claims on Greek lands and insistence no matter what new name is agreed that his country will call itself Macedonia – the name of an abutting ancient Greek province.
“Macedonia has no alternative to NATO and the EU,” Zaev said at an event organized by the European Commission and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, using the name FYROM alls itself, which is still anathema to Greece, even to the anti-nationalist Tsipras and his ruling Radical Left SYRIZA.
Greece has blocked FYROM from getting into NATO and any chance of joining the EU using its veto under a unanimous consent rule.
A New Democracy government in 1992 allowed the new country to Greece’s north breaking away during the collapse of Yugoslavia to use the name temporarily but then successive FYROM governments began claiming Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city, the major port of Thessaloniki.
It seemed a deal was finally at hand before Zaev said he would not change his country’s Constitution to remove claims on Greek territories and would not agree to any new name, with a qualifier such as Upper Macedonia, for all uses as FYROM prefers to call itself just Macedonia, as do 140 other countries, weakening Greece’s position.
Zaev said unless FYROM gets what it wants that nationalists in his own country would rise up and that tension could spread in the Balkans.
Foreign ministers hadn’t been able to reach an agreement even with brokering from United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has been trying to find a solution for 20 years and this year resumed talks after a three-year break.
That came amid speculation the United States wants a name deal so that Greece will lift a veto preventing FYROM’s European Union entry hopes as well as getting into NATO with America keen to get another country into the defense alliance as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
Tsipras tweeted that last measures to be agreed in a deal are “always the most difficult,” but when asked by reporters about his expectations for the meeting he said that they “are very big,” even though his own spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, said the talks were stuck.
EU leaders were also anxious to help the countries seal the deal with Kathimerini saying plans include trying to put together an international treaty with EU guarantees that the terms of the deal will be fulfilled leaving Greece to hope the promises are met if it agrees to give away the name Macedonia permanently.
The leader contender for a new name is said to be Upper Macedonia but Nimetz said Greece must give in and give away the name.
Tsipras and Zaev are expected to meet again after the Sofia sit-down and their foreign ministers who have failed to find common ground, Nikos Kotzias and Nikola Dimitrov, may also take another stab at it.
Greece has reportedly put together a package of new concessions – with no explanation why as maintaining a veto over FYROM’s EU and NATO hopes could force FYROM into giving in.
(Material from ANA was used in this report)