By Sinisa Jakov Marusic
Progress has been made in the Greece-Macedonia name talks, both countries’ Foreign Ministers said after a meeting in the Macedonian town of Ohrid, but the hardest issues remain to be solved.
Thursday’s talks on the long-standing bilateral name dispute between Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias resulted in progress, but as things move forward, the hardest issues remain to be solved last.
Dimitrov said that the third round of his talks with Kotzias went in open and sincere atmosphere, adding that for the first time they have discussed the time frame of implementation of a possible agreement.
“We talked about all the issues and the differences over the name dispute. On some of these issues there is a progress, as they are ripe, on some there are still differences” Dimitrov told a joint press conference with Kotzias in Ohrid.
“For the first time we talked about the time frame and the steps that need to be done, if a solution is reached and needs to be implemented. This was a conversation without outwitting, with great understanding of the needs of the other,” Dimitrov added.
On his part Kotzias said that the hardest issues are still not overcome.
“As we move closer and solve our problems, fewer topics remain to be solved, however these are the hardest ones” Kotzias said.
He also confirmed that progress has been made, expressing hope that the hardest issues will be overcome as well.
This has been the third round of talks between the two Foreign Ministers in the past month. The two ministers discussed the name issue twice in late March, first at a meeting in Skopje and then in Vienna.
The name dispute centres on Greece’s insistence that use of the word ‘Macedonia’ implies a territorial claim to the northern Greek province of the same name.
As a result of the unresolved dispute, Greece blocked Macedonia’s NATO membership in 2008. It has also blocked the start of Macedonia’s EU accession talks, despite several positive annual reports from the European Commission on the country’s progress.
In the absence of official information from the talks, media outlets in Greece and Macedonia have been speculating that some of the key issues, such as a new composite name for Macedonia with a geographical qualifier, have already been agreed.
The name ‘Upper Macedonia’ is being mentioned as one of the most viable options.
However, speculation has suggested that the key stumbling block remains the scope of the new name’s use.
While Greece says the new compromised name must be put into the Macedonian constitution as an additional guarantee, Macedonia prefers a solution that would apply only for international use.
Apart from the ministerial talks, another parallel meeting took place in Ohrid between the two countries work groups who are tasked to prepare a bilateral friendship agreement.
Dimitrov informed that the groups managed to align a draft document that, among many other things, should address Greece’s fears of Macedonian irredentism towards its own northern province that is also called Macedonia.
Both ministers are set to meet again in Thessaloniki, Greece in May 3 and 4.