Athens braces for US pressure over FYROM

Greek diplomats are today bracing for a visit by the chief of NATO following a breakdown in talks between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) that had been aimed at solving the Macedonia name dispute. NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is expected to exert pressure on the government to reach a compromise with FYROM ahead of a NATO summit scheduled for April when the Balkan state’s accession to the alliance is to be discussed. But Greece also faces pressure on the domestic front, according to the results of an opinion poll, conducted by Public Issue for Kathimerini, which shows that 84 percent of people want the government to veto FYROM’s NATO accession if a mutually acceptable solution to the name dispute is not reached. The two diplomats representing Greece and FYROM returned home empty-handed after Saturday’s negotiations with a UN mediator in New York failed to reach a breakthrough. The UN’s Matthew Nimetz spoke of «substantive differences» between the two sides. He is now expected to take a back seat as the US applies pressure on both Athens and Skopje to reach a solution ahead of next month’s summit. According to sources, US President George W. Bush will telephone Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and FYROM’s Branko Crvenkovski. Before boarding his flight to Athens, Scheffer said that he had discussed the name issue with Bush and would brief Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis on the president’s stance. According to sources, Scheffer will probably stress Greece’s obligations as a NATO member state and object to the country’s negative stance on the two main topics on the agenda of next month’s summit, namely the alliance’s enlargement and the recognition of Kosovo as independent. It is unclear whether the US will propose anything in the framework of the name talks. Greece had declared itself ready to discuss one of the five composite names proposed by Nimetz. But FYROM rejected all five suggestions. Russia’s Ambassador to Greece Andrei Vdovin told Sunday’s Kathimerini that his country would be willing to adopt whichever new composite name is agreed upon for FYROM even though it recognized the Balkan state by its constitutional name in 1992. «In view of Greece’s concerns and with the aim of securing stability in the Balkans.. ..(Russia) will accept whichever settlement meets the criteria (of a mutually acceptable solution),» Vdovin said. Moscow would be ready to use the new name in its bilateral relations with FYROM, he added. Last week the US ambassador in Athens, Daniel Speckhardt, avoided commenting on whether Washington would adopt the new name – once it is has been agreed – in its bilateral dealings with FYROM. Eight in 10 back veto option Eight in 10 Greeks feel that the government should veto FYROM’s bid to join NATO and the European Union if the two sides cannot resolve the name dispute, according to a poll conducted by Public Issue on behalf of Sunday’s Kathimerini. With a rally planned in Thessaloniki on Wednesday, 36 percent of those questioned said they would «definitely» take part in a public protest about the name issue. Another 16 percent said they would «probably» take to the streets. However, only a quarter of Greeks believe that FYROM is a «big» or «very big» threat to Greece’s security. The same percentage think that it would be a «national catastrophe» if Greece’s neighbor is recognized as Macedonia. The diplomatic process is due to continue but almost half of Greeks feel that Athens is fighting a losing battle. The poll suggests that 48 percent feel that the government can win its diplomatic battle to ensure that the neighboring state does not call itself «Macedonia.» But exactly the same percentage of respondents feel that, with almost 120 countries now recognizing the Balkan state as «Macedonia,» Greek efforts will probably prove futile. The only name that anywhere near the majority of Greeks seem willing to accept is «Democratic Republic of Upper Macedonia» – 43 percent of some 600 respondents questioned last week said that they would «definitely» or «probably» accept this name. Only 9 percent are willing to accept the country’s constitutional name of «Republic of Macedonia.»

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