Macedonia sees hope for end to name dispute with Greece

Bujar OsmaniThe Associated Press
Deputy Prime Minister of Macedonia Bujar Osmani speaks to reporters during a briefing in Athens, on Tuesday, Jan. 9, 2018. Osmani is visiting neighboring Greece in an effort to resolve a long-standing dispute over the tiny Balkan republic's name that has blocked its membership of NATO and closer integration with the European Union. (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris)

Macedonia's deputy prime minister expressed optimism on Thursday over renewed efforts to resolve a decades-long dispute with neighboring Greece over the Balkan country's name that has kept it out of NATO.

Bujar Osmani, Macedonia's deputy prime minister in charge of European integration, told The Associated Press that both countries were committed to finding an "acceptable solution" to the 25-year disagreement.

Greece says its northern neighbor's name implies a territorial claim to its own adjoining province of Macedonia — home of Alexander the Great, one of the most famous ancient Greek rulers — and insists on calling it the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

A NATO member, Greece has blocked Macedonia's bid to join the alliance because of the name dispute. Athens is also angry at Macedonia's appropriation of ancient Macedonian history. Macedonia, which peacefully gained independence from the former Yugoslavia in 1991, counters that it covers a region that has been known as Macedonia for a long time.

"I feel there is a general feeling of fatigue in both countries due to this long-lasting dispute," Osmani said. "What I think is important is that we have achieved substantial progress in confidence building between the two countries that finally will result in finding a ... solution of the dispute."

Osmani added that the two countries' "international partners" have also "obviously shifted their interest back into" helping strike a deal.

Also Thursday, Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias held talks with Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in the northern Greek city of Thessaloniki — in a hotel named Macedonia Palace.

A Greek Foreign Ministry statement said the two ministers agreed to take a more active part in U.N.-supervised efforts to overcome the dispute.

Greece advocates a "composite name" solution, which would somehow qualify the word Macedonia. But that might cause a rift in Greece's left-led governing coalition, as the small right-wing junior coalition partner opposes any use of the word Macedonia.

Greece's powerful Orthodox Church also opposes the use of the word Macedonia in the country's name, as the head of the Church of Greece noted in a letter to Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras Thursday.

Tsipras responded that he would give the Church's concerns "due attention."

Osmani met with Greek officials in Athens this week. The two governments have said they hoped to have the disagreement resolved by this summer.

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Costas Kantouris in Thessaloniki, Greece, and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje, contributed to this story.

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