NATO’s secretary-general urged the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) Thursday to solve its 25-year-old name dispute with alliance member Greece and proceed with wide-ranging reforms if it wants its membership bid to succeed.
Jens Stoltenberg said he “strongly welcomes” the small Balkan country's efforts to join NATO – a decade after the dispute with neighboring Greece halted an earlier accession effort.
“But while it is good to be ambitious, it is also important to be realistic,” Stoltenberg said in an address to lawmakers in parliament in the capital, Skopje.
“There is still much hard work to be done,” he added. “That means, of course, resolving the issue of your country's name. It's an issue that has weighed on this region – and this country – for far too long.”
Stoltenberg said he welcomes the willingness and resolve to solve the name issue Prime Minister Zoran Zaev's left-led government has shown since coming to power seven months ago – replacing a conservative administration.
While praising measures already passed by FYROM's new government, Stoltenberg also called for progress on electoral and media reform, as well as greater transparency in government finances.
Officials in both Athens and Skopje have voiced hopes the dispute can be resolved within months.
Negotiators from both sides met in New York on Wednesday at a meeting held by the UN mediator on the issue. Shortly after the talks, the FYROM government said the outcome would depend “on the willingness to compromise on both sides.”
Earlier, FYROM’s negotiator, Vasko Naumovski, said the proposals presented by UN mediator Matthew Nimitz were “far from a dignified solution.”
Stoltenberg also met FYROM’s president, Gjorge Ivanov, as well as the ministers of defense and foreign affairs, and was due to hold talks with Zaev. [AP]