Macedonia seeks end to name dispute blocking NATO, EU bids

Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev (L) with Commissioner of European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn, at the European Commission in Brussels, where Zaev hopes to renew discussions of Macedonia joining NATO and the EU

Athens says the country should not call itself Macedonia because Greece's northern province bears the same name, and it has vetoed Skopje's attempts to become a member of the NATO military alliance since 2008.

Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who took office on June 1, visited the Brussels headquarters of both the European Union and NATO in a renewed push to resolve the row with Greece.

"We will try all possible measures to move Macedonia to membership," Zaev said at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg.

"With a FYROM reference we can become a member of NATO," he added, referring to Macedonia's official name at the United Nations, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The EU also calls it FYROM, but Macedonia, which gained independence in the 1990s after the bloody collapse of Yugoslavia, insists that this is a only a provisional name.

Greece claims a historical right to the term because the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom lies in its northern province of Macedonia.

Compounding matters, Greek Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, who deals with NATO on behalf of his country, is a member of a nationalist party that strongly opposes Macedonia's use of the name.

Zaev said he wanted to try to build ties with Greece to find a solution to the disputes impeding its attempts to win access to the EU and NATO.

"I know that if we have friendly relations and a good approach then a solution is feasible," Zaev told reporters alongside EU Neighbourhood Commissioner Johannes Hahn.

"I know our friends the citizens of Greece, through their governing party and the opposition parties, will also assist Macedonia on its path to European and NATO integration," he said.

Joining the 29-nation NATO is a much more likely prospect for Macedonia than the 28-country EU, which has frozen all enlargement until at least 2020.

But Stoltenberg insisted that any solution to the name dispute "has to be reached within the UN framework" between Macedonia and Greece.

"At the same time we would also like to underline that we welcome the very clear message from the new government that they will intensify dialogue with Greece," he said.

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