PSARADES, Greece — Ending a 26-year-old dispute with Greece’s northern neighbor, anti-nationalist Prime Minister and Radical Left SYRIZA leader Alexis Tsipras witnessed the signing of a deal to let the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia be called North Macedonia before stepping into that country to the town Otesevo for lunch to celebrate it.
He was joined by FYROM Premier Zoran Zaev on the Greek side of Lake Prespes, which borders the countries for the signing of the document by their foreign ministers, Greece’s Nikos Kotzias and FYROM’s Nikola Dimitrov.
Zaev called on the two neighboring countries to "step out of the past and look to the future. "Our peoples want peace...We will be partners and allies," he said, Radio Free Europe reported. Tsipras described the signing of the agreement as a "brave, historic, and necessary step for our peoples." He added that, "We are here to heal the wounds of time, to open a path for peace, fraternization, and growth for our countries, the Balkans, and Europe," and put the feud behind them.
That ceded away forever the name of Macedonia, an abutting ancient Greek province, and open the door for North Macedonia to be admitted to NATO and begin a European Union accession bid, both blocked by Greek vetoes over the years when FYROM governments claimed Greek lands, including the real Macedonia and second-largest city and major port of Thessaloniki.
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Tsipras went ahead even though Zaev hasn’t changed his country’s Constitution to remove irredentist claims on Greece and the Greek leader allowed North Macedonian citizens to declare themselves Macedonians and their language to be Macedonian.
Neither Parliament has ratified the deal and Tsipras is taking the gamble they will although if it fails later it will likely be irreversible to get FYROM out of NATO or slow its EU bid.
The deal was brokered by United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who had failed for two decades to find a solution but pushed it hard this year, resuming talks after a three-year break amid speculation the US wanted another country in NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.
The village of Psarades, on the shore of the Great Prespa lake, was chosen as a symbolic site, since it lies near where the borders of the two countries, as well as Albania, meet. Albania has designs on Greek lands too and hailed the deal.
Zaev was to arrive by boat from across the lake, to be greeted by Tsipras. Police cordoned off all approaches to the village to prevent protesters from reaching the site. A protest by nationalists will be staged almost 40 kilometers (25 miles) away.
Nimetz will also be there along with the European Union's foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn.
(Material from the Associated Press was used in this report)