UN heralds FYROM talks

The United Nations envoy charged with mediating in a dispute between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s official name yesterday heralded the launch of a new round of bilateral talks to solve the 15-year-old spat. The talks, which will start at the ambassadorial level but may be continued by foreign ministers, are scheduled to begin on November 1 in New York. UN envoy Matthew Nimetz said he looked forward to «more intense discussion that will lead to a mutually satisfactory solution.» Athens is disheartened by Skopje’s increasingly intransigent stance, as was evident in stern comments made by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis over the weekend. But Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos was careful yesterday to strike a positive note ahead of fresh talks. «Greece is participating, and will continue to participate, essentially and productively in negotiations on the name issue,» he said. A comment by Skopje’s deputy foreign minister, Zoran Petrov, published in a FYROM newspaper, has caused irritation. «Next year we are joining NATO and it is likely that an EU accession date will be set… so if some people want to keep complaining about the same thing for the next two millenia, that’s their problem,» Petrov is quoted as saying. Petrov also insisted on the right of Greece’s Slav-Macedonian minority to «pursue the legitimate struggle for their legal rights.» US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried has called on Skopje to «work fairly and constructively with Greece for a solution before the NATO summit,» due in April 2008. The UN’s envoy, Nimetz, retained a neutral stance, noting, «Both sides have shown a real desire to reach a settlement.» In a bid to make up for the poor impression he made with his recent disparaging comments regarding the ancient Greek warrior Alexander the Great, Nimetz said he «took back» earlier remarks and «emphasized the permanent influence and deep significance of Alexander the Great on world history.» Nimetz’s original comments had been in reaction to Greece’s objection to Skopje naming its airport after Alexander the Great.