Greek Alternate Foreign Minister Dimitris Droutsas told Macedonian media on Monday that a solution could be reached in the Athens-Skopje “name” spat as soon as tomorrow if there is the necessary political will to do so, adding that Athens has that will.
Droutsas and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou on Friday met the UN mediator in the dispute, Matthew Nimetz, as part of his latest tour to both countries.
Speaking in an interview for daily Dnevnik he said that a name with a geographic qualifier, as Athens has proposed, would distinguish the Greek province of Macedonia from the neighboring state with the same name and could mean a “win-win” situation for both countries.
Meanwhile, Macedonian Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski on Sunday said that he is still waiting for word from Nimetz, whom he met with last week in Skopje.
“Nimetz is on his way to New York. We are waiting for him to call our negotiator [Zoran Jolevski] to inform him about his talks in Athens and his further steps. Until then I can only reiterate that the key to the solution lies in Greece’s hands,” Gruevski told media.
Local observers point out that developments after Nimetz’s visit will reveal the level of success of the latest talks aimed at resolving the 18-year long spat.
“If Nimetz quickly retreats to New York and limits his contact with the media, this would mean that there has been no forward movement,” Erol Rizaov, the editor of Macedonian daily Utrinski Vesnik, said in his Friday column.
On the other hand, “if Nimetz expressly returns to Skopje or calls the negotiators to New York, that means that a deal over the name is really brewing,” he concluded.
After visiting Skopje on Wednesday and Thursday and then heading to Athens, Nimetz noted that there were differences between the two sides but that he had a “good feeling” about the latest round of talks.
He repeated in both countries that a solution to the spat is reachable in the near future if both parties concentrate on the primary issue of finding a mutually acceptable compromise name for Macedonia, and leave aside all other details, which he called secondary, including the span of its use and the questions of naming the Macedonian language.
The two countries have been locked in the name row for nearly two decades. Athens has blocked Skopje’s entry into NATO and in December prevented the country from starting its EU accession talks because of the dispute.
Athens insists that Skopje’s official name, Republic of Macedonia, implies territorial claims on Greece’s own northern province, also called Macedonia.
US and EU officials have been pushing for a deal to be reached in the first half of this year.