Greece and Macedonia resumed troubled talks in a named row that have bedeviled relations between the Balkan neighbors for 26 years.
"Picking up the thread again is very important," Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias said after meeting Macedonia's new foreign minister Nikola Dimitrov."It's a good start today," said Dimitrov, formerly a negotiator on the name issue a decade ago.
Prime Minister Zoran Zaev, who took office on June 1, has called for a renewed push to resolve the dispute with Greece in the hopes of securing membership to the European Union and NATO. Athens says the country should not call itself Macedonia because Greece's Northern Province bears the same name, and in 2008 vetoed Skopje's attempts to become a member of the NATO military alliance.
"We will try all possible measures to move Macedonia to membership," Zaev he said this week at a press conference with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg."With an 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.
Kotzias on Wednesday said Greece wanted a permanent agreement before dropping its objections."We know our neighbours want to join several regional organisations. We are prepared to support any effort they make, once the name issue is solved. That is a precondition," Kotzias said.
"I think we can work on a good compromise from which both sides will gain," he said, adding that he would visit Skopje in late August for further talks. Greece claims a historical right to the term Macedonia because the heart of Alexander the Great's ancient kingdom lies in its northern province of Macedonia.
Relations between Athens and Skopje had hit rock bottom under the previous nationalist government of Nikola Gruevski. In power since 2006, Gruevski antagonized the Greeks by erecting a giant statue of Alexander the Great in Skopje and naming the capital's new airport after the ancient warrior king. Dimitrov acknowledged that the talks ahead would be difficult.
"This is the first meeting...problems have accumulated," he said. "You don't go and dance immediately after you meet."