Athens will not consent to NATO entry for the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) before the name dispute with Greece’s northern neighbour is resolved, Greece’s Foreign Minister Nikos Kotzias made clear on Wednesday, after a meeting with FYROM Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov.
While Greece wanted FYROM to join both the EU and NATO “this can happen very simply by finding a compromise solution on the name dispute and then immediately going to the United Nations to sign our new agreement – and then to Brussels to announce it to the international organisations based there,” Kotzias said.
The two ministers held talks for more than two hours and afterwards described their meeting as a “very good start,” which indicated a willingness on both sides to further develop bilateral relations and seek a solution to the name issue.
Replying to questions on whether the name dispute was linked to FYROM’s inclusion in the EuroAtlantic system, Kotzias noted that Greece wanted the entire Western Balkan region to be included in EuroAtlantic structures.
“The real issue, however, is how much the countries themselves desire this. They cannot expect us to want it more than they do,” he pointed out. Greece could not be asked to make concessions and back down from its positions when the countries having a direct interest in the outcome refused to do so, “for something that in theory interests them more than us,” Kotzias added.
“We are interested but believe that they are also interested. When both sides are interested, therefore, we must find a path of understanding and compromise,” he said. The Greek government, on its part, will make every effort to find a path of compromise that is right and beneficial for both sides, he pledged.
“For this reason I consider it very important that today we picked up from where we left off with Nikola,” Kotzias said, adding that the talks will continue in Skopje at the end of August.
The discussion held on Wednesday did not resolve any of the issues relating to the specific problem but there was a good atmosphere and therefore the best possible framework for discussing this difficult problem, he added.
Dimitrov, by contrast, urged Athens to support his country’s EU and NATO accession efforts and said he would continue to present arguments and proposals proving that this would benefit Greece.
“You have the lever in your hands and this lever can be used to open a path toward concluding an unresolved issue,” he added.
Though he was not “naive” and knew that the path ahead was neither simple nor easy, Dimitrov said he was in Athens to ask for the support of the Greek government. “What we need is a push, to get the encouragement to continue on the path that we want to follow,” he added.
He also underlined Skopje’s desire for friendly relations with Greece and said he had “prepared well” for the meeting, examining the confidence-building measures (CBMs) already in place and the options for more in the future.
Outlining Skopje’s foreign policy, Dimitrov said his country’s priority was to revive the EU and NATO accession process and “work in the direction of becoming a better neighbour for all its immediate neighbours.”
Replying to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on whether his government would try to scale back displays that smacked of irredentism directed at Greece, Dimitrov questioned whether the use of the term “irredentism” was valid.
“The constant repetition of the word ‘irredentism’ is very strange…Irredentism means wanting to acquire something that does not belong to you. We are focusing on our own borders, we want to preserve our own country. We have been waiting for a very long time, situated in an area that is not in a good state.”
“I am not a man that pays attention to statues and names but I believe this is something that has made our relations suffer. However, this is something that has helped those that do not desire good relations between the two countries and they have exploited the specific issue,” he added.
He also noted that Wednesday’s meeting was the first between the two countries, which in due course would find ways to deal with the issues that distract from the primary goal of developing good bilateral relations between them.
Kotzias, on his part, expressed Greece steadfast support for the stability, clear sovereignty and territorial integrity of its northern neighbour, as well as the non-intervention of third parties in its internal affairs.
“We believe that developing relations between our two states, developing confidence, will facilitate talks on the unresolved problems and when [the time] is ripe and we are ready on both sides we will hold [these talks],” he added.
Referring to CBMs, Kotzias also expressed satisfaction with the steps taken so far but with the agreement to expand them further made in his meeting with Dimitrov.