UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The U.N. mediator trying to resolve a 25-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the former Yugoslav republic's name said Friday the issues "have been narrowed" and both sides are determined to reach an agreement.
Matthew Nimetz told reporters that talks "have been intensified considerably" following meetings that began on Thursday with Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias and Macedonia Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov. He said the ministers are heading to Brussels and will continue their dialogue there.
"Both sides have important positions, national interests at stake, but they also both recognize the importance of reaching an agreement," Nimetz said.
Greeks maintain that their northern neighbor's name implies a territorial claim to Greece's adjoining province of Macedonia — home of Alexander the Great, one of the most famous ancient Greek rulers.
Officially called the Republic of Macedonia when it peacefully gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the country was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because of the dispute with Greece.
Macedonia is seeking to join NATO but Greece, which is a member of the alliance, has blocked its membership because of the issue.
Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev said Saturday he is ready to go ahead with a new name for his country in order to solve the dispute and pave the way for full integration of the small Balkan country into the European Union and NATO.
Zaev said that "Republic of Ilindenska Macedonia" is the compromise name acceptable to both sides.
The adjective "Ilindenska" literally means "the day of the prophet Elijah" and refers to a 1903 uprising against Turkish occupiers.
But Greek political leaders briefed by Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras rejected the Macedonian proposal outright, and the Greek government itself has been evasive.
"We welcome the acceptance by (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) that a solution to the nomenclature cannot exist without the adoption of... a name for all uses," a statement from the Greek government previously said, meaning that Macedonians could not simply call their country "Macedonia" domestically while having another name for international use.
Reflecting opposition views, Communist Party leader Dimitris Koutsoumbas said the compromise name is "neither a geographical nor a temporal" designation, as agreed in nearly two decades of U.N.-mediated talks. Some opposition leaders went further calling the proposal a provocation on Macedonia's part.
Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.