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NATO: Consensus Key to Macedonia Dispute

Monday, March 03, 2008

ATHENS, Greece —  NATO's chief voiced hope Monday that neighbors Greece and Macedonia can resolve a long-running dispute over Macedonia's name that is threatening to stall alliance plans to expand in the Balkans.

NATO member Greece claims the name for one of its provinces and has vowed to block the Balkan nation's bid to join the alliance unless the country alters its name.

"I think we have to realize that Greece is a staunch member of NATO, and aspiring members are not. This is a basic difference," Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said. "I hope that a solution can be found. That would be a big plus."

Macedonia is called the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia at the United Nations, but more than 100 countries have recognized it as Macedonia.

Greece says its northern neighbor's use of the name Macedonia could imply claims on the adjoining Greek province of Macedonia _ birthplace of the ancient warrior-king Alexander the Great.

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said "no solution means no invitation" for Macedonia to join NATO. He was speaking after talks Monday with de Hoop Scheffer.

Solving the 17-year dispute has become increasingly urgent ahead of NATO's April summit when the alliance will consider inviting Macedonia, Albania and Croatia.

Senior Greek and Macedonian diplomats held new talks last week with special U.N. negotiator Matthew Nimetz but appeared no closer to a deal. Nimetz earlier proposed alternative names for Macedonia.

Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.

Both countries have maintained diplomatic relations since 1995. The name dispute has not prevented business and trade relations from flourishing, and Greece remains the largest foreign investor in Macedonia.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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