Athens-Skopje deal still elusive

Athens-Skopje deal still elusive

With core issues still unresolved, United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz stressed the need on Wednesday for intensified talks over the next few weeks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in order to finally settle the name dispute that has divided the two countries for more than 25 years.

The American diplomat said his meeting in Vienna on Wednesday with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and his FYROM counterpart Nikola Dimitrov, which lasted more than four hours, was intense and cordial.

However, despite the positive climate, the two sides remain gridlocked over Greece’s demand that the name that Skopje will use as part of a deal will be erga omnes – meaning that it will be used domestically and internationally – and FYROM’s refusal to change its constitution, at this phase at least.

Kotzias and Dimitrov continued the tradition established during their previous meetings in Skopje, Ohrid and Vienna and had dinner together after their talks.

The two men will meet two more times within the next 20 days – in Thessaloniki on May 3 and 4 on the sidelines of a summit between Greece, Albania, FYROM and Bulgaria, and on May 11-12 at another summit of Balkan countries regarding the future of Europe.

On Tuesday, European Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn expressed optimism that the dispute could be resolved in the next two weeks and thus pave the way for the beginning of FYROM’s EU accession talks.

However, the Greek Foreign Ministry issued a terse statement, describing Hahn’s comments as “unfortunate,” asking him to “stop undermining” the negotiations.

FYROM Prime Minister Zoran Zaev remarked later that such a swift solution would be welcome though he did not expect it. “I would like it very much but I don’t think it’s possible,” he said.

Meanwhile, Kotzias heads to Brussels on Thursday to attend the two-day summit of NATO foreign ministers. He will meet on Thursday evening with NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg and is also expected to discuss the strained relations between Greece and Turkey.

The meeting will take place against the backdrop of Greek dismay in recent week at the neutral stance adopted by Stoltenberg with regard to tension between the two NATO allies.

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