Macedonia is unable to be a member of the EU and NATO because of the ongoing naming dispute with Greece.

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani arrives for a meeting with Greek Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs George Katrougalos (not pictured) in Athens, Greece, January 9, 2018.
Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani arrives for a meeting with Greek Alternate Minister of Foreign Affairs George Katrougalos (not pictured) in Athens, Greece, January 9, 2018. (Reuters)

Greece said on Thursday it and Macedonia hoped for progress in talks with a UN mediator on January 17 towards settling a long-running dispute over the latter country's name.

Macedonia was founded in 1991 and has been recognised by the UN since 1993, but it was accepted into the UN with the name of Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) due to Greek objection to the name Macedonia.

Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias held talks with Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov in the Greek city of Thessaloniki on Thursday after the two sides agreed to renew diplomatic efforts. 

"The ministers expressed their common expectation for the presentation, at the upcoming meeting...(with) the UN envoy of an initial framework within which the process will move forward," a Greek Foreign Ministry statement said after the meeting.

"The two ministers discussed the methodology, the approach of the two sides and the framework concerning the name issue, while also agreed to take a more active role in discussions to overcome the difference on the name issue."

Intensified negotiations and bilateral meetings between Greece and Macedonia in the recent year have increased expectations for the solution of a quarter-century-old name dispute between the two countries.

Many countries including Turkey recognise Macedonia with its present name.

Solution efforts to dispute

The new government of Macedonia under Prime Minister Zoran Zaev has accelerated negotiations with Greece to solve the problem. Zaev has said there is possibility of a solution in the first half of 2018.

Also, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras has said that there is a "window of opportunity" for solution of the Macedonian issue. 

Macedonian Deputy Prime Minister for European Affairs Bujar Osmani defined 2018 as a "historic year" for bilateral relations. He added that a solution will be reached in the first half of this year.

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

Osmani on Thursday told The Associated Press that both countries were committed to finding an "acceptable solution" to the disagreement.

"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.

Media reports said during the negotiations the name "New Macedonian Republic" was discussed.

Arguments and reactions of Athens

Greece says its northern neighbour'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's counter-arguments

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.

Macedonia is unable to be a member of the EU and NATO because of the ongoing naming dispute with Greece, which constitutes a big problem for the country's future.

'Composite name' solution

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.

Kotzias has said they will propose a name that will distinguish Macedonia from Greece's Macedonia region and this name will include a geographic characterisation.

On the other hand, the Macedonian government plans to go to a referendum on the name issue while Greece will approve the name that will be agreed upon in the parliament.

Church opposes use of 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 Tsipras Thursday.

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

"I hope you will contribute...so that Greece, in a spirit of unity and rational speech, will successfully deal with the issue...without the mistakes of the past," Tsipras wrote to the head of the Church of Greece, Archbishop Ieronymos.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies