Athens, Skopje play down name row before ministers meet

Athens, Skopje play down name row before ministers meet

Greece sent draft proposals to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) for settling a decades-old name dispute, drawing a cautiously positive response from Skopje two days before their foreign ministers meet.

They have agreed to step up UN-brokered negotiations this year to resolve the dispute, which has undermined Skopje’s hopes of joining NATO and the European Union.

Greece, a member of both, argues that its northern neighbour’s use of the name "Macedonia," along with parts of its constitution, could imply a territorial claim over the Greek region of the same name.

"The draft proposals have been sent… and we are now waiting for their comments and remarks," Greek government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos told journalists on Tuesday.

"The plan has been drafted based on Greece’s standard negotiating positions," which included demands for constitutional modifications, he said, without going into detail.

Greece has said a compromise could include an as yet undecided compound name with a geographical or chronological qualifier by which the country would be subsequently known.

FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said after receiving the document that no specific name was under discussion but Skopje had sent its own version back to Athens, and he had reasons to be hopeful.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias will meet his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in Skopje on Thursday and Friday, and again in Vienna on March 30 at talks hosted by United Nations special envoy Matthew Nimetz.

Zaev said he would also meet Kotzias in Skopje, adding in a statement: "I am glad that the Greek side is committed to finding… ways to solve the problem which it has with our constitutional name, while preserving the dignity and integrity of both sides."

Last month Kotzias said in an interview with Reuters that the draft would not contain only Greek views but would be a basis for cooperation.

Both sides hope for a settlement before a NATO summit in July. But protests in both countries are an indication of popular resistance to any compromise. [Reuters]