No breakthroughs were achieved on Wednesday’s first meeting between the UN Secretary-General’s personal envoy Matthew Nimetz and the representatives of Greece and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) in New York to discuss the decades-old name dispute, the U.S. diplomat stated.
Nimetz is holding a new round of talks at the United Nations headquarters from Jan. 17-19 in an attempt to break the impasse of the past 27 years.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting with FYROM’s Ambassador to the United States, Vasko Naumovski, and Greece’s negotiator Adamantios Vassilakis, Nimetz said the two sides expressed a sincere desire to solve the issue and discussed the state of play.
“We talked about the state of the negotiations, we talked about the basic issues, the name issue, the various approaches to the solution. Both sides reiterated their sincere desire to solve this issue, to develop good relations, peace and security in the region. We know this is a very difficult issue. There were no breakthroughs today but we resolved to continue the talks in the coming months”, he noted.
The UN envoy met separately with Ambassadors Naumovski and Vassilakis each on Tuesday for several hours and then for nearly two hours this morning.
Asked if any progress has been achieved at all, he said there was no solution and that participants mainly explained the difficult points of any deal.
“If by progress you mean a breakthrough on the solution, I’ll say we did not achieve any such results. We talked about some of the ideas of the past, to what extent they might work, to what extent they need more refinement, so I think that both sides have a better idea of where the difficulties are from the other side and hopefully they will go back to their governments and think seriously about these things”, he underlined.
Nimetz explained that he made a few comments of his own about where he believed some more flexibility is needed. This was the first meeting for Ambassador Naumovski who has taken over from Ambassador Zoran Jolevski in this role.
“I think it was very helpful for him to hear directly from Ambassador Vassilakis the Greek positions, from a very experienced Greek negotiator on this issue.”.
Asked about whether he has ever considered imposing a timeline on the talks, Nimetz said this approach wouldn’t help.
“In all honesty, we have to be careful about setting deadlines in a negotiation, because the question is what happens if you miss the deadline. I’ve been in many negotiations in my life, both in private and public sector and people say ‘Set a deadline’. I say, ‘If I set a deadline, what is the consequence?’ Or I could say, ‘If we don’t solve it by a certain date I resign. Or we take it to another level. But usually you need an agreement of the parties for something like that. I’m a mediator, I’m not an arbitrator. Therefore we have to be very careful.”, he explained.
“These are two neighbouring countries dealing with a problem that has a lot of historical antecedents and two countries that are going to have to live together for the end of time unless the Teutonic plates move them aside. But that is unlikely. So they are going to have to live with each other and adapt to the difficulties of historical people having different historical views. I don’t have a good reason to set a deadline.”, he added.
Greece and FYROM have diplomatic relations, people from both countries move back and forth across the border and there’s trade and investment between the two countries.
He explained that this issue is not like the situation in the Middle East and expressed his belief that eventually there will be a solution. “So I’m not in a position to set a deadline – except perhaps for my own participation.”, he joked.
Commenting on the pressure by the European Union and the United States to achieve progress on the name dispute, Nimetz said EU member-states are very interested in this issue, as it affects enlargement and FYROM’s induction in the Union.
“The European countries and the United States have urged both parties to try to reach a solution here and they’ve given me a lot of support to move this process forward and any help I can get from the EU is always appreciated. They have always been helpful in the past.”, he said.
Asked whether he is tired of mediating on the name dispute after all those years, he said this is a really difficult issue and that every year he consults with the two parties and see whether they want him to continue.
“I do think it’s been a helpful process to try to find a way of resolving it, whether it is possible or not, whether I will get tired one day and retire, I think that is likely one of these days.”.