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NATO chief to visit Greece over Macedonia name spat

NATO chief to visit Greece over Macedonia name spat

NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer will visit Athens on Monday to discuss the name dispute between Greece and Macedonia that could keep Macedonia from joining the military alliance.
Greece's Foreign Ministry announced the visit Wednesday, and said de Hoop Scheffer would meet Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis.
Greece is threatening to veto Macedonia's effort to join NATO unless a solution is reached. NATO foreign ministers will meet March 6 in Brussels for their final discussion on the membership aspirations of Macedonia, Albania and Croatia ahead of a summit in Bucharest April 2-4 that will decide whether to issue invitations.
Athens argues the name Macedonia could imply territorial claims on the northern Greek province of Macedonia _ which the government in Skopje denies.
"This is not some kind of sentimental issue for Greece, Foreign Ministry spokesman Giorgos Koumoutsakos said Wednesday. He described the name issue as "a vehicle" for activities aimed at potentially annexing the Greek territory.
Macedonian President Branko Crvenkovski rejected the claim.
"This name issue cannot be classified as a security issue in any regard," Crvenkovski said while visiting Brussels.
Crvenkovski met EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who said he hoped Greece would not use its veto powers.
"I don't like vetoes ... This is a moment in which solutions can be found and I hope very much that a solution can be found," Solana said.
But Koumoutsakos said any solution would have to be implemented _ not just agreed upon _ before the veto threat is lifted.
"No solution means no invitation," the spokesman said. "Accession requires unanimity from all the members of (NATO). There is no doubt that Greece will not relinquish any of its membership rights."
Late Wednesday, 5,000 people demonstrated peacefully in Skopje against any change to Macedonia's name. The governing conservative party supported for the protest, which was organized by a youth group and journalists' associations.
"Macedonia should immediately stop the negotiations with Greece, because the problem of the name is absurd," actor Toni Mihajlovski told the crowd.
On Friday, representatives at the United Nations from Greece and Macedonia are due to meet in New York to continue negotiations.
NATO spokesman James Appathurai insisted both sides had a "open minded spirit" toward reaching a deal.
"NATO as an organization certainly hopes that a resolution to the name issue can be arrived at as soon as possible," Appathurai told reporters in Brussels.
Earlier this month, a special U.N. envoy proposed five alternative names which Macedonia could consider adopting. Under the plan, leaked to a Greek newspaper, the names are: Constitutional Republic of Macedonia, Democratic Republic of Macedonia, Independent Republic of Macedonia, New Republic of Macedonia, and Republic of Upper Macedonia.
Macedonia, a former Yugoslav republic, gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
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Associated Press writers Paul Ames in Brussels and Konstantin Testorides in Skopje contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-03-03 06:56 GMT+08:00