'Recognize new reality', Macedonia asks Greece

SKOPJE (Reuters) - Macedonia called on Greece on Thursday to recognize the “new reality” in the country and support its bid to join the European Union and NATO, a move that would require overcoming the row over the country’s name.

FILE PHOTO: Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev talks to the media after meeting European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Commissioner Johannes Hahn (not pictured) at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 12, 2017. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

Greece has vetoed the ex-Yugoslav republic’s attempts to join the two bodies because of a decades-long dispute over the name Macedonia.

Athens argues that the use of the name implies territorial claim over Greece’s own northerly region of Macedonia.

It has agreed only that the country can be referred to in international venues as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, or FYROM.

But the new government in Skopje of the Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, which took over in May, pledged to speed up the process of joining NATO and EU, for which good neighborly relations are set as one of the pre-conditions.

To demonstrate the commitment, Zaev’s government signed a friendship treaty with eastern neighbor Bulgaria this month designed to end years of diplomatic wrangling.

“We hope that Greece will recognize the new reality in Macedonia and our honest wish for friendship. We expect and we hope for help and support for European integration,” Macedonia’s foreign minister, Nikola Dimitrov said after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias.

It was the second meeting between the two foreign ministers since May.

“We spoke about the process, how it will be going, the methods and modalities, but we also spoke about what exactly are the interests and worries on both sides,” Dimitrov said.

Kotzias said Greece would be ready to support Macedonia’s bid to join EU and NATO, but only once all pre-conditions for membership are met. He did not elaborate.

The Macedonia name dispute has dragged on for almost 26 years with no clear progress. Athens has previously insisted that Skopje use a compound name such as “New” or “Upper” Macedonia.

Former nationalist prime minister Nikola Gruevski built his almost decade-long rule on nationalism and had refused to meet Greek demands.

Macedonia, a small ex-Yugoslav republic of about two million people, declared independence in 1991 and avoided the violence that accompanied the breakup of Yugoslavia.

It was later rocked by an insurgency among its large ethnic Albanian minority that almost tore the country apart in 2001.

Reporting by kole Casule; Writing by Ivana Sekularac Editing by Jeremy Gaunt.