BUCHAREST (Reuters) - Greece stood by its threat on Wednesday to veto NATO membership for Macedonia despite pressure from U.S. President George W. Bush to resolve a name dispute that could fuel instability in the Balkans.
Bush urged Greece not to use its veto as an alliance member to prevent NATO inviting the ethnically mixed ex-Yugoslav republic’s to join during a summit this week in Bucharest.
Athens has said it will prevent Skopje joining unless it changes its constitutional name, which is the same as Greece’s northernmost province, birthplace of Alexander the Great.
“We have said that no solution (to the name dispute) means no invitation (for Macedonia),” Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyanni told reporters after meeting Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis shortly before leaving for Bucharest.
Asked whether there were any last-minute proposals by the United Nations, Bakoyanni said: “I don’t think that there is time left for something like that.”
NATO and the European Union urgently want a solution to the dispute for the sake of stability in the Balkans, already threatened by Kosovo’s declaration of independence from Serbia on February 17.
Macedonia was on the verge of ethnic war in 2001 after an Albanian insurgency, but a power-sharing agreement brokered by the European Union and NATO pulled it back from the brink.
NATO will consider its membership invitation along with that of its Adriatic partners Croatia and Albania at a summit lasting from Wednesday until Friday.
“Tomorrow in recognition of their progress, NATO will make a historic decision on the admission of three Balkan nations Croatia, Albania and Macedonia,” Bush said in a speech before the NATO meeting in the Romanian capital. “The United States strongly supports inviting these nations to join NATO.
“These countries have launched the difficult path of reform and built thriving free societies. They are ready to contribute to NATO and their citizens deserve the security that NATO brings,” he said.
NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, however, was less optimistic over Macedonia.
“Unfortunately as we speak, there isn’t a solution in the offing,” he said.
Skopje hopes to get a start date for entry negotiations to the EU later this year but Greece also holds a veto on this and has shown in the past it is willing to wield it, notably over the Cyprus conflict.
“In one day, we will lose the European Union and NATO perspective. You will leave the country without the most important Euro-Atlantic framework for its existence,” said Saso Ordanoski of the FORUM Centre for Strategic Research and Documentation in Skopje.
“Then the problem is the perspective of the whole region.”
Other experts on the region told a conference in Bucharest that there was a risk Macedonia could unravel if it did not get NATO membership. They said there could also be knock-on effects in Kosovo and Albania.
Macedonia uses its chosen name in bilateral ties with many states but is called “The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” at the United Nations, and by NATO and the European Union. It split from Yugoslavia in 1991.
U.N. negotiators have suggested a compromise, Republic of Macedonia (Skopje), but it was not accepted by Greece. Athens would accept a name such as Republic of New Macedonia or one with a geographical distinction.
Reporting by Justyna Pawlak, David Brunnstrom and Paul Taylor; Editing by Timothy Heritage