Athens stands firm at NATO gathering

Greek diplomats attending a crucial NATO summit in Bucharest yesterday stood by their threat to veto the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia’s bid to join the alliance, as Washington appeared to tone down its insistence that the Balkan state be invited immediately. «We are running out of time,» Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos told reporters when asked if there was any chance of a settlement of the Macedonia name dispute that is obstructing FYROM’s NATO bid. According to sources, the discussion of FYROM’s membership bid may be postponed until the alliance’s next scheduled summit in the fall. Sources said that the name issue will be broached by US Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried who is to visit both Athens and Skopje later this month. Earlier yesterday, US President George W. Bush reiterated his support for Albania, Croatia and «Macedonia» joining NATO. «There’s an issue with one country, in particular, but… I’m optimistic that it will get solved,» Bush said in a clear reference to FYROM. Other Western leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also expressed their staunch support for FYROM’s membership bid. The European Union’s enlargement commissioner, Olli Rehn, said: «NATO membership for Croatia, Albania and FYROM will help prepare those countries for EU membership as well.» Earlier Rehn had criticized posters in Skopje streets showing the Nazi swastika superimposed on the Greek flag. This is hardly in keeping with the principles of good neighborly relations, he remarked. In Skopje last night, hundreds of FYROM residents staged a candle-lit vigil to protest Greek «oppression.» There were no reports of violence. Several US newspapers featured the comments of Greek diplomats and diaspora organizations yesterday – an apparent bid to counteract pressure from Washington on Athens to drop its veto threat. «Athens has shown its good will… and gone the extra mile,» US Ambassador Alexandros Mallios wrote in a letter published in The Wall Street Journal. «If the name issue is not resolved now, it may fester to poison future generations, undermining stability and cooperation,» he added. Meanwhile, yesterday’s editions of The New York Times and other US newspapers carried a one-page feature – an initiative by a Washington-based diaspora group – entitled «What’s in a name?» explaining Greece’s position on the Macedonia name dispute.

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