NATO to Macedonia: Membership contingent on name deal with Greece

Belgrade -By Boris Babic, - Macedonia has no choice but to back the name agreement it reached with Greece after decades of feuding if it wants to join the NATO military alliance, Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Thursday in Skopje.

The NATO chief called it "an illusion" that membership in the alliance was possible if the country voted down "the Republic of North Macedonia" as its new name in a referendum on September 30.
"There is no other path toward NATO other than by accepting the agreement with Greece. Without the agreement, there is no NATO membership," he said in a joint news conference with Prime Minister Zoran Zaev.
Stoltenberg was the first of three major leaders scheduled to visit Macedonia between Thursday and Saturday to back Zaev's push to validate Macedonia's name agreement with Greece. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz visits on Friday and German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday.
The visits ramp up pressure on voters to endorse the agreement with Greece to rename the country and end a feud between Athens and Skopje that has dragged on for 27 years.
In the conference with Stoltenberg, Zaev ruled out the possibility that the referendum may fail. "There is no 'if.' The referendum will succeed."
Athens claims the name and the ancient history of Macedonia for its northern province and has accused its neighbour of territorial aspirations toward the province and its legacy. The name spat prompted Greece to block Macedonia from joining NATO and vowed to do the same in the European Union.
Following the agreement in June, Greece lifted its NATO veto in July but will ratify a membership treaty only after the name change is backed in the referendum and sealed with constitutional changes.
Nationalists in both countries oppose the deal, but a recent survey in Macedonia indicated growing support for NATO and the EU.
The poll, carried out by the US-based International Republican Institute in late August, showed 57 per cent in favour of changing Macedonia's name to join the military alliance and Europe's 28-member political and economic union.
Of those polled, 22 per cent said they would vote against the agreement and 16 per cent that they would not vote at all.

Thursday, September 6th 2018
By Boris Babic,

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