VIENNA — Thorny issues remain between Macedonia and Greece in their efforts to resolve a decades-old dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name, officials said Friday after talks on the issue.
The two countries have been at odds for a quarter-century over the term “Macedonia,” which Greece argues implies territorial aspirations on its own northern province of the same name.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Nikola Dimitrov and Greek counterpart Nikos Kotzias met in Vienna with U.N. mediator Matthew Nimetz in the latest round of negotiations over the spat, which has been lingering since Macedonia gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991.
“We still have difficult issues to resolve in this difficult time,” Nimetz said. “But I still have a positive feeling.”
Nimetz said that both ministers were focused on stability in the region, and “I’m hopeful that we can continue to work in a very positive way.”
Dimitrov described the meeting as having made “conditional progress, because as we move forward, we are coming to the tough issues.” He said it was unsurprising that the further the talks progressed, the more issues of contention would come to light.
Kotzias said the two sides had now “identified in detail what we agree on and what we disagree on,” and expressed the hope they would be “ready to make a big step” in their next meeting. No specific date has been set for further talks.
None of the three gave details about what the difficulties were.
The dispute has prevented Macedonia, which gained independence from Yugoslavia in 1991, from joining NATO and the European Union. It has been admitted to the United Nations under the official name Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.
A recent change of government in Macedonia has fueled hopes an agreement can be found, although intensified talks have also met with major demonstrations in both countries by those who don’t want to see any compromise.
Friday’s meeting was being hosted by Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl.