May 18, 2018 / 7:34 PM / 10 months ago

Greek PM to brief opposition parties over Macedonia name dispute

ATHENS (Reuters) - Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wants to brief the country’s president and opposition leaders over the progress achieved with Skopje in negotiations to settle a decades-old dispute over Macedonia’s name, a government official said on Friday.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras gives a news conference at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria, May 17, 2018. REUTERS/Stoyan Nenov

Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev, who discussed the issue during an EU-Western Balkans summit this week, said that significant progress had been achieved but more deliberations were needed.

Athens cautioned it was early to talk of a deal.

“The prime minister intends to brief the president and the opposition parties on Saturday and Sunday,” the official said.

The name of Macedonia has been a source of contention between the two countries for decades, frustrating the tiny but strategically placed Balkan state’s hopes of joining the European Union, where Greece has veto rights, and NATO.

Greece wants Macedonia to adopt a compound name which will be used internationally and domestically and to remove references in its constitution which Athens says are “irredentist”, or implying potential territorial claims. Greece’s northern region is named Macedonia.

“A constitutional revision is a necessary condition for the country’s integration in the EU and NATO,” the official said.

Tsipras discussed the issue with the head of the conservative New Democracy party, the country’s main opposition, Kyriakos Mitsotakis later on Friday. He was expected to speak to Socialist leader Fofi Gennimata on Saturday morning.

New Democracy said in a press release that Tsipras and Zaev were discussing the name ‘Ilinden Macedonia’, a proposal which it called “unacceptable”. The suggested name, it said, confirmed and strengthened any ‘irredentist’ claims by Skopje.

Tsipras told parliament that nothing was final.

“Any proposals submitted on the table (of the negotiation) either by the (UN) envoy or from our neighbours, are void of content if the Greek government’s conditions are not fulfilled,” he said, without disclosing any further details.

Macedonia declared independence from ex-Yugoslavia in 1991 but almost immediately found itself at loggerheads with Greece. Zaev and Tsipras agreed last year to renew efforts to settle the row, a sensitive issue in both countries that has led to protests.

Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas; Editing by Catherine Evans

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