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Greece-FYROM Name Talks Heat Up, Rival Parties Will Get Briefing

Αssociated Press

Greece's Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias, left, shakes hands with his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov while posing for the media upon his arrival at the foreign ministry building in Skopje, FYROM, Friday, March 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Boris Grdanoski)

ATHENS - Negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to settle on a permanent name for the country that broke away from Yugoslavia 26 years ago are starting to pick up again, with Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias due to brief rival party leaders about their status.

The ruling anti-nationalist Radical Left SYRIZA under Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants to let FYROM keep the name Macedonia - that of an abutting ancient Greek province - in a new composite, with a qualifier such as Upper.

The name was first given away by a New Democracy government in 1992 in what was supposed to be a temporary arrangement before governments in FYROM began claiming Greek lands, history and culture, leading Greece to veto its hopes of getting into NATO and the European Union, which Tsipras wants to lift.

Despite ferocious opposition in Greece, two massive protest rallies and a survey showing 68 percent of people are opposed to the name giveaway, the government wanted to forge ahead, despite objections from Defense Minister Panos Kammenos, leader of the pro-austerity, marginal, jingoistic Independent Greeks (ANEL) who are junior partners in the Leftist-led coalition.

Major opposition New Democracy leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis - whose father, the late Premier Constantine Mitsotakis was in power when FYROM was allowed to use the name Macedonia - said there should be a unified front in dealing with the name issue but didn’t say whether he would oppose letting FYROM keep Macedonia.

During a speech at a regional conference in Thessaloniki - which FYROM still claims - Tsipras  said his government was seeking a "lasting solution" to the name dispute with FYROM, whose Premier Zoran Zaev has refused to change the Constitution which makes irredentist claims on Greek lands.

Tsipras’ comments came shortly after the regional governor for Central Macedonia, Apostolos Tzitzikostas, said that the only solution that "will stand" is one that does not include the term Macedonia.

But Tsipras argued that "Central Macedonia and Thessaloniki in particular, which wants to be a hub of growth, can only see benefits from the resolution of our dispute with our northern neighbors," as he wants to end the long feud.

Tsipras said Tzitzikostas, from New Democracy, was a Member of Parliament in 2008 when the Conservatives were in power and essentially had already agreed to the giveaway with a qualifier. But Tsipras said while he wants a resolution that it doesn’t mean he “will settle for any solution,” which lets FYROM keep claiming Greek lands.

"We are negotiating with a sense of national responsibility with the aim of achieving a solution that will secure our history and heritage and at the same time cancel any irredentism from the other side,” he said, according to Kathimerini.

Kotzias and his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov were to meet in Vienna with United Nations envoy Matthew Nimetz, an American lawyer who has failed for two decades to find an answer and just resumed the talks after a three-year break amid speculation the US is keen to get FYROM into NATO as a bulwark against Russian interests in the Balkans.

Kotzias has already met with Fofi Gennimata, leader of the amalgamated center-left Movement for Change, a collection of fringe parties led by the former PASOK Socialists who vanished after going against their party’s alleged principles in backing austerity measures in former governments.