Diplomatic bomb from US

In a major diplomatic embarrassment for Athens, Washington suddenly announced yesterday that it was changing its official name for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) to the «Republic of Macedonia.» Greece has for 13 years fiercely opposed that appellation for its tiny northern neighbor, arguing that to call it the Republic of Macedonia would imply claims on the Greek province of Macedonia, on the other side of the border. «We have now decided to refer to Macedonia officially as the ‘Republic of Macedonia,’» State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said, adding that this was not intended as a slight to Athens. «By recognizing Macedonia’s chosen constitutional name, we wish to underscore the US commitment to a permanent multiethnic, democratic Macedonian state within its existing borders.» Officials in Athens appeared to be caught unprepared by the US move, which came just one day after the re-election of US President George W. Bush. Foreign Minister Petros Molyviatis canceled a planned trip to Brussels, and summoned US Ambassador Thomas Miller for a formal protest. «I pointed out to the US ambassador the multiple negative consequences this unilateral act by the American government will have,» Molyviatis told journalists after the meeting. Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said US Secretary of State Colin Powell had phoned Molyviatis to assure him that the recognition was not intended to harm Greek interests, and was not linked to the US elections. Athens and Skopje are engaged in long-running talks on a mutually acceptable name for the country. In his congratulatory message for Bush’s re-election yesterday, President Costis Stephanopoulos noted that the State Department decision «caused the Greek people deep disappointment.»