April 3, 2008 / 11:20 AM / 11 years ago

NATO refuses Macedonia invitation to join for now

BUCHAREST (Reuters) - NATO refused Macedonia an invitation to join the alliance for now on Thursday after Greece vetoed the decision in a dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.

However, allied leaders meeting in Bucharest authorized their ambassadors to issue the invitation as soon as the name dispute, which has festered for 17 years, is resolved.

“We have agreed that an invitation to the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia will be issued as soon as a mutually acceptable solution to the name issue has been reached,” NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer told a news conference.

Macedonia, which broke from Yugoslavia in 1991, has the same name as Greece’s most northerly province, and Athens insists Skopje must use a compound name such as “New” or “Upper” Macedonia.

“This is a huge disappointment,” Macedonian government spokesman Nikola Dimitrov told Reuters.

“We have been told we have done everything we should have done in terms of reforms and military contributions. We are being punished because we are Macedonians.”

Political analysts say Macedonia faces an uncertain future because the loss of its immediate prospects of joining NATO and possibly the European Union, where Greece holds a veto, could cause its fragile ethnic power-sharing arrangement to unravel.

“It is a decision which goes against stability in the Balkans. It encourages all the radical forces,” Dimitrov said.

Macedonia went to the brink of civil war in 2001 between the Slav Macedonian majority and an ethnic Albanian minority before an accord brokered by the EU and NATO pulled it back.

Using tortuous circumlocution to avoid the name, de Hoop Scheffer referred to “the nation for which an invitation is not yet possible” and “the nation that has not yet been invited”.

A Greek spokesman said nothing had happened in U.N.-mediated negotiations on the name issue to change his country’s stance. Denying Greece was isolated, he said four other allies had backed Athens.

Reporting by Mark John, writing by Paul Taylor, editing by Timothy Heritage

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