‘No plans to end meditation’ with Skopje

The United Nations mediator between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM), Matthew Nimetz, who has been trying to find a solution to the two countries’ dispute over the latter’s use of the name «Macedonia,» says he intends to continue with his efforts throughout this year. In his first public reaction to reports that he was likely to withdraw in September – and that the Greek government could hold premature elections over the FYROM issue, he told Kathimerini, «I have no plans to end my mediation.» Nimetz made no secret of his surprise over rumors to this effect and wondered what purpose they served. Sources familiar with the way Nimetz works ruled out any such surprises during a campaign period, pointing to his extensive experience in these matters. «He always avoids putting one or the other side in a difficult position,» they said, pointing out that after all a mediator’s role is to facilitate and not make difficult the work of the parties involved. «The job of a mediator is to keep the process going,» said Nimetz, «and in that sense I believe the two parties continue to be cooperative in discussing the issue in a responsible way, and therefore the discussions go on and that is a positive aspect. Obviously… there hasn’t been a resolution. But we continue,» he added. A career diplomat and now a prominent New York lawyer, Nimetz is familiar with issues of concern to Greece. As US undersecretary of state in the 1970s, he worked on Greek-Turkish relations and the Cyprus issue under then secretary of state Cyrus Vance. In the early 1990s, he was appointed US mediator in the disputes between Athens and Skopje, working again with Vance, who was then the UN mediator. After a two-year negotiation marathon, an interim agreement was reached in September 1995. Since then Nimetz, who now has the UN mandate himself, has continued to seek a solution to the only remaining difficulty – that of FYROM’s use of «Macedonia.» «I have dealt with this for many years. I still believe it’s an important issue and that there are opportunities to make progress. I have been reappointed by the secretary-general so I will continue for the time being with my mission,» he said. Those who know Nimetz well say that he is fed up with the seemingly fruitless process that has now been restricted to rare meetings in New York with delegates from each of the two countries and infrequent visits to their capitals. He also notes that, at least in the midterm, he is unlikely to be visiting. «I have no present plans to visit the area. I was there earlier this year,» he told Kathimerini. UN circles familiar with the talks agree that FYROM’s application to join NATO might be the last chance for a final settlement of the issue. According to UN sources, outside factors such as Skopje’s bid to join NATO do in fact affect as well as create opportunities, and that clearly there are certain issues that everyone will be called upon to deal with. The Greek government has let Washington, the most powerful member of NATO, know that it has no intention of losing face. Even former prime minister Constantine Mitsotakis, always an advocate of reasonable compromises, believes that Greece will never allow FYROM to join NATO or the European Union as «Macedonia.» When a politician of his experience adopts such as stance, it is clear that no Greek government will agree to, and no Greek Parliament will ratify, the accession of «Macedonia.» Just a few days ago, US President George W. Bush promised NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, who was a guest at his Texas ranch, that he would work with countries interested in joining NATO within the next year to ensure that they fulfill conditions for accession. The NATO leader replied that countries knocking on NATO’s door need encouragement but also needed to make more reforms if next spring’s summit was to be a success. That is what Greece’s stance is to focus on: Athens will reject FYROM’s accession, not with a veto over the emotional name issue, but by invoking the conditions that FYROM has not fulfilled. One of these is the obvious need for good relations between neighboring states. According to the action plan approved by NATO, «a mutually acceptable solution on this open question will contribute to a further stablization of the region and would be in accordance with the principle of good-neighborly relations within the alliance.» In the same spirit, a UN diplomat told Kathimerini that Greece has a very important part to play in FYROM’s accession to NATO. «It is its neighbor, the connecting link, so it would be very useful and helpful to resolve the issue before FYROM is ready to join.» A more comprehensive picture will be formed after a visit, scheduled some time ago, by President Bush to Tirana on June 10 to meet with the leaders of Albania, FYROM and Croatia, as well as the talks that Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns will have in Athens a few days later and the Euro-Atlantic Cooperation Council session to be held in Ohrid on June 28-29, although it is not certain that Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis will be attending.