Europe Greece and Macedonia say close to deal to resolve dispute over country...

Greece and Macedonia say close to deal to resolve dispute over country name

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Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras meets with Macedonian Prime Minister Zoran Zaev at the EU-Western Balkans Summit in Sofia, Bulgaria,

Greece and Macedonia said on Tuesday they are close to a deal to resolve a dispute over the ex-Yugoslav republic’s name that has dogged the two countries for decades.

The row has stymied Macedonian attempts to join the European Union and the NATO military alliance in a region where the two organizations jostle for influence with Russia.

Athens says its northern neighbor should not be called Macedonia because it amounts to a territorial claim on a northern Greek province of the same name.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev are expected to discuss the issue by phone on Tuesday.

“Ι hope that today we can announce to the public something nice,” Zaev said.

A Greek government official, who declined to be named, said: “A deal could be announced even today.”

Greece had previously said it would accept a compound name with a geographical or chronological qualifier. An example of such a compromise could be “Northern Macedonia” or Nova (new) Macedonia.

Athens and Skopje are aiming to agree the outline of a settlement before an EU summit in June, though it would need to clear a referendum in Macedonia and win approval from lawmakers in both countries. A NATO summit is scheduled for mid July.

Most Greek political parties have so far rejected any use of the name Macedonia, even with descriptive tags, and hundreds of thousands of Greeks demonstrated in February against any compromise.

It will be a delicate balancing act for Tsipras who has a razor-thin majority in parliament. Opinion polls show a drop in public support for him over economic reforms under a third financial bailout brokered in 2015.

His coalition partners, the right-wing Independent Greeks, have said they will not give their blessing to a deal.

“We do not agree and we will not vote for any deal including the name Macedonia,” said Defence Minister Panos Kammenos, head of the party. He said he did not expect any accord to be backed by Skopje.

The dispute erupted in 1991 when Macedonia broke away from former Yugoslavia, declaring its independence under the name Republic of Macedonia.

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