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Last Updated: Monday, 3 March 2008, 01:13 GMT
Nato tries to heal Macedonia row
By Malcolm Brabant
BBC News, Athens

Jaap de Hoop Scheffer
Diplomats are sure Mr de Hoop Scheffer's plea will fail
Nato's secretary general is to visit Athens to try to convince Greece not to block the membership of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Monday's visit of Jaap de Hoop Scheffer is part of a campaign of growing international pressure on Greece.

Athens has threatened to veto its northern neighbour unless it compromises over its official name.

Greece is convinced the former Yugoslavs have territorial designs on its northern province of Macedonia.

Unpopular

Nato wants the former Yugoslav republic beneath its umbrella as a safeguard against the country dividing between the ethnic Macedonian majority in the east and the Albanian minority in the west.

But diplomats here are sure that Mr de Hoop Scheffer's appeal to Greece not to use its veto will be rejected.

Greek Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis has made it clear that unless the government in Skopje agrees to change its current name, Macedonia, the veto will be applied.

The UN's special envoy, Matthew Nimetz, has proposed five alternative names and began new talks in New York on Friday in an attempt to reach a solution, but he says there is a substantial gap between the two sides.

The dispute is seen as a very petty one in many corners of the world.

But a survey in Sunday's respected Kathimerini newspaper reveals that 84% of Greeks are in favour of vetoing what they call "the Skopjans" if there is no compromise.

In terms of domestic politics, Mr Karamanlis has very little room for manoeuvre.

He only has a majority of two seats in parliament. His administration - narrowly re-elected last September - is hugely unpopular.

The latest opinion polls show that voters are abandoning the ruling Conservatives in droves.

To show weakness over an issue that generates such passionate nationalistic sentiments would be terminal for Mr Karamanlis.

SEE ALSO
Could Balkan break-up continue?
22 Feb 08 |  Europe
Profile: Nato
30 Jan 08 |  Country profiles



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