Final push in the ‘Macedonia’ dispute

The Greek government embarks on a new round of talks on Thursday in New York over its dispute involving the use of the name «Republic of Macedonia» with a commitment by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis to the Greek people and the international community that he will not allow the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia to join NATO if the name issue is not first resolved. Karamanlis has the support of almost all the opposition parties for his demand that the FYROM use a qualifier along with the word «Macedonia.» Following Greek parliamentary elections last month and meetings between Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and FYROM President Branko Crvenkovski, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz decided to get talks moving again, under the pressure of the deadline created by Skopje’s desire to join NATO, and in the shadow of a possible rekindling of unrest in neighboring Kosovo. In a recent interview with Kathimerini, Nimetz clearly stated that NATO accession is the key to the process. It is in this spirit that he will attempt to reconcile Greece’s willingness to accept a composite name for FYROM with Skopje’s desire to join European and Atlantic institutions. Nimetz’s fresh diplomatic initiative, likely to be the last in his 12-year term as UN mediator, comes at what is not the best time for Athens, despite some recent indications of cautious optimism. Although the international community has not been convinced by Greece’s arguments, the UN, Washington and Brussels have realized that Greece is in fact determined to exercise its right to veto FYROM’s accession to NATO and the EU and are encouraging both sides to reach a compromise. In the first phase of the final round of talks, Nimetz will meet with both countries’ ambassadors and present a time frame that will parallel developments in Kosovo (the conclusion on December 10 of a diplomatic offensive by the US-EU-Russia troika). It is also within the deadline for examining FYROM’s application for NATO entry. The issue is also likely to be discussed at the NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in December and February. In January, NATO’s Senior Political Committee is to decide whether FYROM meets the membership criteria. The formal decision will come in April at the Bucharest summit of heads of government. Nimetz wants to upgrade the process to the political level to facilitate decision making, which would call for a meeting of the two countries’ foreign ministers. He is also likely to call for confidence-building measures and the avoidance of statements or actions harmful to the process. Greece comes to the talks with the support of the US Congress which, in resolutions and letters from its members, has in recent months been exerting pressure on the State Department regarding the need for a compromise solution. Nicholas Burns, who is responsible for the issue at the State Department, has briefed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Only last week Congressman Robert Wexler, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Europe Subcommittee, sent a letter to the Bush government asking it to undertake a serious diplomatic initiative in cooperation with the UN to find a mutually acceptable solution. Greece’s main opposition PASOK party has lent its support for the final stretch. Former Prime Minister Costas Simitis has spoken openly in favor of a composite name for FYROM, recalling that just a few years ago he had discussed the proposed name «Gorna Makedonija» with his then counterpart Ljubco Georgievski, while Theodoros Pangalos has said, «We will stand by the government in securing national interests.» For its part, FYROM is entering the talks in a spirit of complete intransigence. Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski and Foreign Minister Antonio Milososki said they would keep their country’s constitutional name («Republic of Macedonia») at all costs «irrespective of whether the negotiations are stepped up, slowed down, or whatever else may happen.» They underlined that the only thing they will agree to discuss is a composite name to be used solely by Greece.