OPINION

Crucial period for FYROM dispute

With developments in Kosovo’s independence bid expected in February and in the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM)’s accession to NATO in March, we find ourselves in the final stretch of the FYROM name dispute. Any negotiations taking place these coming weeks will culminate during Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis’s visit to Washington next month, where she is expected to take advantage of Greece’s stance on the Kosovo issue and sway US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice before UN special envoy Matthew Nimetz tables his latest proposal. A meeting of NATO foreign ministers will follow in Brussels, at which decisions will be made. Things are moving along swiftly, but the outlook is not very bright for Greece. Next Monday, Nimetz will call Greece and FYROM to the table in Skopje in the first mediation outside New York, with the same meeting expected to be reconvened later in Athens. The Greek Embassy in Washington has been doing battle on unfriendly turf on the FYROM name front and, in cooperation with the Greek-American lobby, has succeeded in winning a small battle in Congress, eliciting a reaction from Skopje. Of course the American government does not take its cue from senators and congressmen, but the dynamic that builds up in Congress by no means leaves the White House indifferent. The efforts of the ambassador and other advocates of the Greek stance have set an example for Greek diplomacy in all major capitals. Their example shows the need for capable staffers with clear duties and responsibilities. The contribution of high-ranking Greek officials who have visited Washington has also been significant. When the groundwork has been well prepared, general secretaries, department directors and ambassadors can have an impact on skeptical American officials and, in turn, can determine the effectiveness of meetings between ministers. In 1995, Greece succeeded in getting the name «the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia» established for that country’s United Nation’s entry, as well as changes to FYROM’s flag. Today, Greece is waging its final battle to have that name maintained under unfavorable circumstances, as two-thirds of the UN assembly have already recognized the neighboring country as «Macedonia.» The greatest weapon Greece has is its veto of FYROM’s NATO bid, although the US does not link NATO membership with a settlement of the name dispute. US President George W. Bush’s decision to support any country that allied itself with America in Iraq has complicated Athens’s efforts. Greece’s task is a mighty one, but the effort is definitely being made.