FYROM efforts intensify

Greek diplomats are preparing for fresh talks this week with United Nations mediator Matthew Nimetz, aimed at resolving a 15-year dispute with the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name. As Nimetz prepares to visit Athens on Wednesday, after talks with FYROM officials today, the Greek government seems eager to settle the wrangle which has strained bilateral ties. «The time (for a solution) is now,» Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis told the Skopje daily Utrinski Vesnik’s Saturday edition. Bakoyannis stressed the need for «clear solutions» on the name dispute «that are easily comprehensible by all nations.» According to diplomatic sources, the mood in government circles is one of cautious optimism in view of growing US pressure on FYROM to consider Greek sensitivities in the name dispute. Over the weekend, leading Republicans in the House of Representatives’ Foreign Affairs Committee called on US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to push for a solution to the dispute, saying a settlement «would contribute to stability in the entire region.» But Athens is not convinced that FYROM will yield to Nimetz’s proposals for a solution, the same sources say. Recent calls by US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns for FYROM to drop its «intransigent» stance may have some impact. Also there is domestic pressure to resolve the issue ahead of a NATO summit in April when FYROM’s bid to join the alliance will be considered. But sources believe Skopje will insist that the country’s «international» name should not differ from its «constitutional» name – «Republic of Macedonia» – which Athens has rejected outright. It is thought that Skopje will propose «goodwill gestures» instead, such as renaming Skopje’s international airport, currently called «Alexander the Great» after the ancient Greek warrior king. Greece has already rebuffed such gestures, stressing its focus on the «essence» of the problem. In her interview with the Skopje paper, Bakoyannis said Greece does not object to the use of «Macedonia» as part of a «composite name» as long as it distinguishes the country from Greece’s region of Macedonia.