UN hands Greece and Macedonia name proposals

NEW YORK -- The United Nations handed Greece and Macedonia proposals on Thursday to help settle a 16-year dispute.

After talks with Greek and Macedonian envoys, UN mediator Matthew Nimetz said in a statement he "made some suggestions in the form of a draft framework for their consideration as a basis for an honourable and fair solution."

Macedonia took that name when it became independent in 1991 following the break-up of Yugoslavia, but Athens objects because it is also the name of a northern Greek province, birthplace of Alexander the Great. Greece has threatened to block its northern neighbour's accession to NATO and the European Union, using its veto if necessary.

Nimetz gave no further details of the draft framework, but diplomats said he had not proposed a specific name.

The UN envoy said he had asked ambassadors Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece and Nikola Dimitrov of Macedonia to take his suggestions back to their governments and that he was ready to visit Athens and Skopje to pursue discussions.

"I urged the parties to consider all possibilities so that a solution to this dispute can be found within a reasonable time frame," he said.

Diplomats said no date for further talks would be set until the two governments had reviewed the proposals. Talks have been going on since 1993, with the last round in May and little progress so far. But Macedonia wants to be invited to join NATO during an alliance summit next year.

Despite the name dispute, economic ties between the two countries are good.

"There are still some views which have to be overcome, but I think if the two countries think over certain things, that the economic cooperation between them is more valuable than other theoretical positions, that would be helpful," Vassilakistold reporters on Thursday.

Macedonia's Dimitrov said: "We are very flexible when it comes to the bilateral communication with Greece, but we have to maintain the position that ... we have a right for a constitutional name, to be used internationally."

He was apparently referring to suggestions that Macedonia might use one name in dealings with Greece and another for other countries.