Nimetz says Athens and Skopje have leaderships that ‘genuinely want a solution’

The UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy Matthew Nimetz said on Wednesday he is hopeful that negotiations between Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) over the latter’s name is gaining new momentum after a meeting with the representatives of the two countries in New York to discuss the decades-old dispute.

Nimetz is holding a new round of talks at the United Nations headquarters from Jan. 17-19 in an attempt to break the impasse of the past 27 years.

Speaking to journalists after the meeting with FYROM’s Ambassador to the United States, Vasko Naumovski, and Greece’s negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis, Nimetz said the two sides will take his proposals back to their respective countries to study them.

“I really believe we have leadership in both Athens and Skopje that genuinely want a solution. I mean they don’t just say they want a solution, I think they believe it’s in the national interest of both countries to solve this problem,” he said.

“We discussed the general issue that we have been discussing for some time and I gave a set of ideas based on what the parties have been talking about recently as maybe a helpful framework for the parties to consider as we go forward. I went through it at the meeting. Obviously, the two sides, having just received it didn’t have any real comments, and they’re taking it back to their capitals. I am very hopeful that this process is moving in a positive direction,” he explained.

Nimetz acknowledged this is a “tough issue” over which there are a lot of strong feelings in both countries, but noted that there’s also a will to reach a settlement.

“There’s a good attitude, both ambassadors are seasoned diplomats and have perceptive comments to make, so I’m hopeful that my suggestions will lead them and their governments to think creatively for a solution,” he said.

The U.S. diplomat also urged the leaders of opposition parties in the respective countries to “take a constructive attitude” on the talks, saying they are very important participants in the political life of both countries. “This is an important regional issue, important for the security of the region and from the point of view of the Secretary-General it is very important to reach a conclusion,” he explained.

Nimetz confirmed that a new set of ideas were tabled today, but refused to go into details.

“There’s a set of proposals, of ideas. I’m not going to comment on what’s in them. I gave them to both parties and they have to take them back to their governments and consider it and study it and see if it’s helpful,” he said.

“My ideas as a whole are new because it’s a new combination of ideas. When you talk about an issue in a dispute for 25 years it is very unlikely that you will come up with something completely new. However, I think the situation in the region is somewhat different, the participants are different, so I view this as a good set of ideas; a compromise and a package that both sides should feel comfortable with that will lead to a dignified and satisfactory solution.”

In the next phase, the UN official said the two governments have invited him to their respective capitals to talk about these ideas. The visits are expected to be held in the next few weeks and will provide a sense of whether talks are moving forward. They will be followed by intensive meetings, possibly at a higher level.

“This group stands ready to meet again. I think the next one or two months will be a good period in which we should know whether we can make some serious progress or not,” he said.

Resolving the impasse with FYROM’s name will be good for Greece, FYROM and the region, Nimetz said, noting both countries also have national interests and they want to pursue them, noting it is “their responsibility and they have to make some very tough choices”.

He said he believed the people of the region are ready to solve this problem, the international community really wants it solved, there are some very objective reasons why this should be solved. Asked if a solution could be found in the next six months, he said “Yes”.

Commenting on reports that demonstrations are planned in northern Greece to protest the name of the term “Macedonia”, the U.S. envoy said people have the right to make their views known, but added that both countries will have to compromise.

“The political life in both countries is very vigorous and democratic. I’ve watched Greek politics for many years and I think people express their views, this is their right […] There are people in both countries that have a very negative attitude. What their solution is in practical terms is never clear to me. Should it continue for another 25 years? Is that going to be helpful to the young people in the area? But each country is a democracy and they will work it out in their way. If they don’t want an agreement there won’t be an agreement,” he said.

Responding to media criticism that he may not be objective, he said he tries to present solutions that will work in both countries.

“I think I’m objective and I try to find possibilities that have some sense of realism to it […] I don’t propose names that I think are not within the realm of realism. I don’t think that makes me unobjective. I try to find solutions that will work in both countries,” he said.