June 1, 2018 / 3:40 PM / a year ago

Chances of Macedonia name deal in coming days getting 'slimmer': Greek official

ATHENS (Reuters) - A deal between Greece and Macedonia over a decades-old dispute on the ex-Yugoslav republic’s name is not likely to be reached in the coming days, a Greek government official said on Friday.

Macedonia and Greece have been holding talks to resolve the long-running row, which has frustrated the tiny Balkan state’s hopes to join NATO and the European Union. Their aim has been to resolve the dispute before an EU summit in late June.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said on Monday that he and his Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov had concluded talks on the issue and their prime ministers were expected to take over to negotiate a final deal.

The two leaders were expected to discuss the issue over the phone on Friday.

“The chances of a deal within the coming days seem to be getting slimmer,” the official said, adding that Skopje was not “ready to respond” to what was agreed between the two ministers.

The call between the two prime ministers was “possibly also drifting away”, the official said.

Earlier, government spokesman Dimitris Tzanakopoulos said there were still legal and political issues to be solved.

Macedonia’s dispute with Greece dates back to 1991, when it peacefully broke away from Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia. Athens says that name implies a territorial claim over a northern province of Greece, also called Macedonia.

Because of Greek objections, Macedonia was admitted to the United Nations with the provisional name Former Yugolsav Republic of Macedonia, but it has not been able to join NATO or the EU. Both countries are under pressure to resolve the dispute, as Western countries see the integration of Balkan countries into the EU and NATO as a way to improve stability.

Macedonia’s opposition has called for a protest against a name change on Saturday evening. Greek activists were also gearing for rallies on June 6 against a possible settlement.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; Additional reporting by Kole Casule in Skopje; Editing by Peter Graff

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