New round of talks in New York: Nimetz believes Zaev wants quick solution to name issue

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Matthew Nimetz, the UN mediator in the Macedonia-Greece name dispute told Greece’s state broadcaster ERT that there is no new name proposal and that he will put several ideas on the table in an upcoming meeting in New York on January 17, proposals that have been already discussed.

“We’ve gone more than 20 years discussing this issue and many of the ideas have been put on the table. But there’s always a new way of looking at things, slightly new dimensions. Therefore, I think people will look at the matter in a somewhat different light. Of course, there’s nothing totally new, I think I’ve said this once before. There’s no new magic in the issue,” Nimetz said in an interview with ERT.

In Skopje, he added, there’s a positive momentum and the government in Skopje is very interested in solving this issue.

The UN envoy said there were other issues apart from the name, namely its usage, the identity issue that, according to him, has been a cause for concern in Macedonia.

MIA offers the ERT interview with Matthew Nimetz in full:

Mr. Nimitz, thank you very much for this interview for the Greek public television. On the name issue, it seems there is a positive momentum for a solution on both sides. What changed? Do you think this momentum could reflect in the negotiations?

First of all, thank you very much for giving me this opportunity to speak and to talk again about the name issue. Yes, there’s a different atmosphere now, and I think it’s come about by a number of things. There’s a new government in Skopje that is very interested in resolving this issue. I think that the Greek government also recognizes that this is a good thing to solve and that it would make a very positive step for Greek foreign policy in the region to resolve this long-standing issue with the northern neighbor. So, I think in both countries there’s a positive momentum. People in both countries may be ready to hear some solutions that are consistent with national interests but also have some element of compromise that would solve the problem. I think there’s a view also of concerns for issues in the region. The migrant issue was a jolting event there. Issues of terrorism and instability in the region also lead people to think, “Isn’t it time to resolve these types of differences?” Greece, having emerged from some very serious economic financial troubles, is now in a much more positive state in terms of its economy and should be playing a more significant leadership role in the region. All these things have led people to think, “Let’s try to settle this matter in a friendly way.”

Now, in the meeting in New York with the representatives of both countries, are you planning to present them a new name? Or a name that was rejected in the past and now the two sides could consider it with a new, positive approach?

Well, of course, to an extent, I will give some ideas to the representatives next week. We meet on the 17th, so I can’t give you my ideas right now. But I would say that we’ve gone more than 20 years discussing this issue and many of the ideas have been put on the table. But there’s always a new way of looking at things, slightly new dimensions. Therefore, I think people will look at the matter in a somewhat different light. Of course, there’s nothing totally new, I think I’ve said this once before. There’s no new magic in the issue. We know what the problems are. We know the point of view in Athens; we know the point of view in Skopje. So there are obviously elements that have come in the past.

So you will present the name and ideas that you have already negotiated in the past?

Over the years, I’ve made various suggestions. Sometimes one country has found them useful. Sometimes the other country has found them useful. What I would try to do is take elements that I’ve heard from both sides. Now, I haven’t given any ideas in the last few years. It hasn’t really been appropriate given what was going on. But I think now we have some good negotiators there. Vasilakis is experienced and knows this issue very well. Naumovski is also a very effective diplomat, and they are colleagues, so we are going to try some ideas.

In the media on both sides lately we have seen different names, always with a modifier: North Macedonia, Nova Macedonia… Are you planning to present them only one name? And what type of modifier?

Well, I’d love to talk to you about it, but I think it’s a little premature today, given the fact that the meeting is next week, so I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to start talking about particular names. But obviously there’s a lot of attention to some type of modifier, and that’s what many of us have been thinking about. But I don’t want to, at this stage, give any ideas. What I want to do is concentrate on the basic issue, and that is the need to reach a conclusion to these talks, and to have people in both countries focused on reaching a solution.

Besides the name, what other issues are important? Could the two sides work on solving these issues with talks?

Well, I’ve always said that nothing would give me greater pleasure than to be irrelevant and to have both sides reach an agreement without a mediator. There’s been a lot of discussion in the last few years about the relationship of the two countries and, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Kotzias, there have been a series of confidence-building measures that the other side has been very instrumental, also, in helping to develop.

This has created a better atmosphere. The rhetoric of a historical nature that sometimes appeared to be provocative has toned down. In fact, it has largely disappeared. That’s very important. In both countries, there’s a forward-looking approach to the relationship, rather than a backward-looking approach. As someone said, “We have a choice of moving rapidly into the 21st century, or we have a choice of going back to the 19th century.”

For the young people in both countries moving forward is very much superior to moving backward. So, if you have a feeling that we’re moving forward in the region, we’re going to be cooperative, we’re going to work together, we’re all going to be in the EU together, we’re all going to be in NATO together, we’re going to solve problems together, then you look at this in a way that can be resolved.

So what other issues are sensitive for both countries?

There are ancillary issues besides the issue of the name. That is the usage, and the issues of identity that are of great concern to the Northern neighbor, and one has to be extremely sensitive about that. There are concerns in Greece also about historical issues, of appropriation of historical heritage, schoolbook issues that also need, ultimately, to be addressed. So, these ancillary issues that we know about are important, but I think there are solutions to them, and two friendly neighbors can resolve them if we get the basic issue resolved first.

In Greece, on the name issue, we have differing views within the government, within the opposition parties, within the society. Do you think, when the crucial moment for the decision comes, there will be a real will for a solution?

You know, I’ve been working as a diplomat with Greece for, believe it or not, 40 years. And I have two rules. Rule number one is: Never comment on Greek politics. So, I’m not going to comment on Greek politics. Obviously, Greece is a democracy, and a very lively democracy, and the various political groups and political leaders have points of view. Greece is lucky to have a lot of very serious leaders, and I’m confident that, if the government of Greece finds a solution here that satisfies them, hopefully, people will look at it with great seriousness and hopefully will be supportive.