NEWS

Greece blocks FYROM but still wants to talk

Greece invited the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) last night to return to the negotiating table and settle the longstanding name dispute between the two countries, less than 24 hours after Athens used its veto at a NATO summit in Romania to block Skopje's attempt to join the alliance. In a rare public address last night, Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis tried to assure Greece's neighbors that it still wants to resolve the name issue but also made it clear that Athens would not be a pushover, as it demonstrated by vetoing FYROM's accession late on Wednesday night. «United, with belief in our strength, we battled hard but successfully,» Karamanlis said in a televised address from Bucharest shortly after 8 p.m. «With resolve and determination, we are moving along the right lines so that we can achieve the final national goal: a solution to the problem.» Karamanlis and the Greek delegation had come under pressure, mainly from Washington, to accept a deal that would allow FYROM to begin the process of joining NATO, albeit as FYROM rather than its constitutional name of Republic of Macedonia. But the prime minister underlined that Greece was not willing to budge from its position that the name dispute must be settled before FYROM's membership bid can proceed. «The matter did not end in Bucharest, what has ended though is the misconception of those who believe they can take part in international affairs without fulfilling even their most basic obligations,» said Karamanlis. «The rules must be respected by everyone.» Greece's position was backed by a number of countries, most notably France, whose President Nicolas Sarkozy has Greek roots. However, all the NATO members agreed in writing that FYROM will not be able to join the alliance until it has settled its dispute with Greece, much to Athens's delight. Speaking a few hours after Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis had said in a press conference that Greece had no desire to «humiliate» FYROM, Karamanlis indicated that Athens was ready to resume talks with Skopje immediately. «I would like to tell our neighbors that our aim is not to humiliate them but to strengthen them,» he said. «In our differences, we are not looking for winners or losers. We are seeking understanding. We are seeking a solution that takes into account everyone's sensitivities and which strengthens stability in the region.» Karamanlis then turned his attention to his domestic opponents and called for greater unity on issues of national importance. «We should constantly bear in mind that a foreign policy of calm self-belief, with a clear strategy backed by systematic work, can bring results.» The premier concluded his speech by suggesting that the foreign policy success achieved in Bucharest could be replicated on the domestic front «as long as we all believe and fight for it.» Skopje expresses 'huge disappointment' at non-invitation; to sign bilateral security pact with Washington Diplomats from the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) yesterday expressed «huge disappointment» after a Greek veto led to their country being deprived of an invitation to join NATO. «I want to send a message to Greece: We will survive and the Macedonian people will overcome this misfortune,» FYROM's President Branko Crvenkovski declared before leaving NATO's summit in Bucharest with his country's delegation. «We are being punished, not because we didn't do our job but because of who we are,» government spokesman Nikola Dimitrov said. He dismissed NATO's decision as «going against stability in the Balkans» and «encouraging radical forces.» FYROM Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said his delegation was leaving the summit «to be with our people.» «This is a difficult time for a small nation,» he said. Milososki was critical of NATO, which he condemned for «a lack of vision for long-term stability in the region.» But he expressed Skopje's «sincere thanks for all the efforts of the United States and President Bush.» Sources said that US officials promised the FYROM delegation to sign a special bilateral agreement expressing Washington's readiness to guarantee the Balkan state's security. Milososki is to travel to the USA in coming weeks to sign the agreement. In Skopje, public sentiment ranged from disappointment to bitterness at NATO and Greece. Many citizens told Kathimerini that the development would probably trigger early elections.

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