UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations said Monday that progress can be made to resolve a 25-year-old dispute between Greece and Macedonia over the latter nation’s name “with the right spirit of compromise by the leadership and by the peoples of the two countries.”
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters ahead of a visit to the two countries by U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz that the United Nations backs Nimetz’ assessment that in meeting with both sides “there has been some positive momentum generated.”
Nimetz, who is expected to arrive in Athens on Tuesday, presented new proposals on the name dispute to both countries in mid-January and said he should know within two months whether progress can be made.
Greeks maintain their northern neighbor’s name implies a territorial claim to Greece’s adjoining province of Macedonia — home of Alexander the Great, one of the most famous ancient Greek rulers.
Officially called the Republic of Macedonia when it peacefully gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, the country was admitted to the United Nations in 1993 under the provisional name of The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia because of the dispute with Greece.
As a NATO member, Greece has blocked Macedonia’s bid to join the alliance because of the name dispute.
Nimetz wouldn’t comment on the ideas he presented to both sides, but said, “I myself don’t think it’s realistic to expect The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia not to have Macedonia in some form in its name.”
Haq defended Nimetz as a proven “impartial mediator” in response to a questioner who asked about Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ inability to achieve consensus with the opposition on the negotiations and reports that Nimetz used the term “Macedonian citizen” in a TV interview.
“We’ll see what results he can achieve over this round,” Haq added. “There are grounds for cautious optimism based on the willingness by the parties to work with each other, and let’s see where we go with that.”