June 28, 2018 / 11:20 AM / 2 years ago

Greek minister optimistic over Macedonia name deal, despite hurdles

FILE PHOTO: Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias addresses lawmakers during a parliamentary session before a vote following a motion of no confidence by the main opposition in dispute over a deal on neighbouring Macedonia's name, in Athens, Greece June 16, 2018. REUTERS/Costas Baltas/File Photo

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greece’s foreign minister said on Wednesday he was confident its parliament would approve a deal to end a dispute with Skopje over use of the name Macedonia, despite strong public opposition.

Seeking to end the decades-old dispute which has prevented Macedonia from joining the European Union and NATO, the two countries signed a pact this month to rename the former Yugoslav state North Macedonia.

The deal has triggered a storm of protests on both sides, and several procedural hurdles need to be cleared before it is approved.

Greek lawmakers are likely to vote on it early next year, Nikos Kotzias said, provided Macedonia changes its constitution and ratifies the settlement first.

Asked if the deal could be rejected by Athens, the foreign minister told 24/7 radio: “There is no way. The Greek parliament will approve it.”

Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ coalition is down to its slimmest parliamentary majority since he took office in 2015, with two lawmakers from his coalition ally, the right-wing Independent Greeks, having become independents over the issue this month.

The coalition now holds just 152 seats in the 300-seat parliament, and the Independent Greeks party has said it will not back any deal that includes the term Macedonia, which it says implies territorial claims against the northern Greek region of the same name.

Kotzias said Greece had a clear strategy and nothing to fear from the deal.

“Greece has a huge interest in settling the problems with its northern neighbors,” he said, adding that negotiations with Albania on other disputes were also close to concluding.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou; editing by John Stonestreet

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